Early works often contain clear indications of the voice and style of the mature artist. That’s the case with three of the four pieces on Ravel, Franck, Ligeti, Messiaen, the new disc by Duo Gazzana. (Get it from Amazon.)

Sisters Natascia and Raffaella Gazzana play early compositions for violin and piano by Maurice Ravel, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Olivier Messiaen, as well as a mature work by Cesar Franck (one which is anticipated in earlier pieces by the composer). Each of the sisters is a fine player. Violinist Natascia has a fine sound, with a particularly rich lower register and a sweet upper register, while pianist Raffaella is a sensitive and expressive accompanist more than capable of taking the lead when the score calls for the piano to do so.

Ravel wrote his Sonate posthume (presumably he didn’t give it that title himself; that’s more like something Erik Satie would have done) in 1899, when he was 24, but many of the musical issues his mature works tackled are addressed here: the primacy of melody, with modality instead of tonality—expressed to a great extent through avoidance of leading tones—and transparently lush textures. It’s a beautifully expressive piece given an excellent performance.

Franck’s Sonata in A Major is one the composer’s best-known works and an important part of the violin and piano repertoire. Franck finished the piece in 1886, using materials he first worked on nearly 30 years earlier. Its four movements share thematic material, which was not unusual for Franck. The Gazzana sisters bring out the lyricism and drama of the piece in equal measure. It’s a very satisfying performance.

Ligeti’s Duo for Violin and Piano, from 1946, is given its first recording here. It’s a three-minute romp, with jaunty folk tunes (or folk-like tunes) reminiscent of Béla Bartók (and anticipating some of the composer’s late music) and the ironic humor that surfaced from time to time throughout his career. The performance is crisp and biting.

This more than worthy disc ends with Messiaen’s Theme et Variations from 1932, which moves briskly through its hauntingly lyrical theme and first four variations until a climax that leads into the last variation, which takes up nearly half of the ten-minute running time. The variation finds Messiaen in the timelessly ecstatic mode that would appear to great effect in his Quatour pour la fin du temps eight years later. It’s a surprising and satisfying conclusion to the piece, which is itself a very satisfying conclusion to this excellent disc.

Steve Hicken

Stream the album on Spotify:

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