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1917: Works For Violin & Piano

Elgar / Respighi / Debussy / Sibelius
Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 376   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyOttorino RespighiJean SibeliusSir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Tamsin Waley-CohenHuw Watkins
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 25 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

1917 Tasmin Waley-Cohen (vn); Huw Watkins (pn) SIGNUM 376 (2 CDs: 85:11)

DEBUSSY Violin Sonata. RESPIGHI Violin Sonata in b. SIBELIUS 5 Pieces, op. 81. ELGAR Violin Sonata

The works in Tasmin Waley-Cohen’s and Huw Watkins’s program Read more center on the year 1917. They begin with Debussy’s Violin Sonata, actually played for the first time in 1917. Watkins—and especially Waley-Cohen—begin allusively, allowing the music to ebb and flow, both emotionally and rhythmically; and they traverse a broad dynamic range (and equally broad emotional one, rising from dark suggestivity to ecstasy). Throughout the first movement, she’s especially expressive in the 1721 Fenyves Stradivari’s middle and lower registers. In the slow movement, the two recreate the sense of improvisatory freedom; and in the finale, they rise, as they did in the first movement, to a powerful conclusion.

Respighi’s Violin Sonata elicits from the performers the same dark urgency as did Debussy’s work. The recorded sound captures the rich resonance of the duo’s reading in St. George’s Church, Bristol as the performers shift from the somewhat elegiac tone of their reading of the first movement to one of the second fraught with sensibility expressed through multifarious highly effective melodic and metric nuances. Near the movement’s center, they hardly lose the breathlessness of the outer sections (especially at the conclusion). Watkins sets out boldly in the Passacaglia, and Waley-Cohen joins him in like manner. In general, they stride, but they also mince their steps in the more sprightly variations. For an insight into just how much slowing down the tempo even further can achieve, listeners might consider Miroslav Hristov and Vladimir Valjareviç on Roméo 7304.

The second CD begins with Sibelius’s Five Pieces, op. 81. As did Respighi and Elgar, Sibelius played the violin and composed a not insignificant body of works for the instrument (all three, for example, wrote violin concertos). In the first of the pieces, a Mazurka, the duo makes nostalgia peer through its bravura. That mood also emerges from behind the Rondino’s glitter, and even more overtly in the Valse, bringing with it the Gemütlichkeit of a salon miniature. The “Aubade” seems more elusive, as does the Menuetto, redolent of the composer’s style.

The program concludes with Elgar’s Violin Sonata, with an ardent, propulsive reading of the first movement that softens into more dewy-eyed meditation as it progresses notably in the tender arpeggiated theme, which, different though it may be, may still recall for many listeners the “Windflower” theme from the violin concerto (there’s even a near quotation of it near the end of the musical paragraph). Occasionally in the strongest statements, Waley-Cohen produces a roughness around her tone’s edges, but without significantly diminishing her achievement. They make the second movement’s opening cajolingly tentative and find both lyricism and strength in the finale.

In general, I’d rather hear individuality expressed through music-making than through program selection. Anyone with an encyclopedia can do the latter, while very few nowadays seem able to do the former. Waley-Cohen and Watkins can, and they do so here: They need no thread on which to string their multicolored beads. Very warmly recommended as a release of special merit.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; France 
Venue:  St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, Engla 
Length: 14 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in B minor by Ottorino Respighi
Performer:  Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin), Huw Watkins (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1916-1917; Rome, Italy 
Venue:  St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, Engla 
Length: 26 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Pieces (5) for Violin and Piano, Op. 81 by Jean Sibelius
Performer:  Huw Watkins (Piano), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1915; Finland 
Venue:  St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, Engla 
Length: 16 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, Op. 82 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Huw Watkins (Piano), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; England 
Venue:  St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, Engla 
Length: 26 Minutes 38 Secs. 

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