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July 31, 2018
Gramophone Magazine

The young Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot’s name will be new to most readers, because his career and competition wins have largely been played out on home soil to date. However, those wins have been notable ones, including First Prize and Grand Prize at the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Manulife Competition. Certainly, his name won’t be falling out of my own head after this debut album.

Opening the programme is Ravel’s Tzigane and what strikes you instantly is that Pouliot’s sound is a beauty: big, rich and warm in the lower registers, clean and clear up high, feathery and husky qualities, along with sweet and rough, all equally there in his colouristic palette. It’s a sound made for Romantic repertoire and one definitely served rather than created by the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù he plays. His technique is formidably watertight, too: listen to the steady tone of his trilled double-stopping from 3'31" onwards.

Pouliot has also caught my interest interpretationally. I particularly like the rhetorical quality he’s brought to the opening of the Debussy first movement by opting for slightly detached articulation. Equally, while he’s more than able to deliver silkily perfect high-speed virtuosities, he won’t do it at the expense of fidelity to the score. For instance, his downwards-cascading runs at 3'52" in the Debussy’s finale stick out for actually honouring the direction to cédez or relax the speed; plenty of top violinists can’t resist whooshing down these like greased lightning.

The only interpretation on the disc that hasn’t quite worked for me, despite its equal fidelity to the composer’s markings, is Tzigane’s opening cadenza; these are pages where, if things aren’t to drag through all that tempo rubato and quasi cadenza, there needs to be a strong sense of line. Pouliot’s pauses meanwhile chop things up just enough to make Hsin I Huang’s steadily ticking piano entry a welcome event.

The disc ends with ‘Beau soir’, and don’t be tempted to regard this as a space-filling petit four, because it is in fact the final treat and a fitting climax for this recording debut, so completely do its lines fit Pouliot like a glove, right from his luxuriously smoky-toned opening bars. Indeed, Tzigane’s cadenza notwithstanding, this is a beautifully rendered programme from a musician with soul, and ideas worth hearing. In fact I hope someone gives him a crack at an orchestral recording sometime soon; I can imagine him sounding delectable in something such as Chausson’s Poème.

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