Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonata No. 3,
Violin Sonata No. 2.
Jacqueline Roche (vn);
Justin Pearson (vc);
Robert Stevenson (pn);
Sophia Rahman (pn)
DUTTON 7219 (63:00)
Pianist Robert Stevenson, who wrote the program notes for Dutton’s release of uncommon but ingratiating British sonata repertoire for violin (cello) and piano, himself read natural sciences and engineering at Cambridge, although he later pursued parallel careers as a pianist and management consultant. He makes no special claims that these sonatas possess outstanding merit; on the other hand, they speak for themselves in these confident and sympathetic performances with the young violinist Jacqueline Roche, a former student of London’s Guildhall School of Music, Indiana University, and Juilliard.
Joseph Holbrooke wrote his Third Sonata, nicknamed “Orientale,” in 1926, employing only a moderately extended tonal harmonic language. A motive very much like the opening one of the
pervades the brief, one-movement—if multisectional—work, which may be a coincidence—or not, considering the composer’s having paid homage to Edgar Allen Poe in his First Symphony and in a symphonic poem,
The strikingly violinistic Second Violin Sonata of Sir Henry Walford Davies, a student of Hubert Parry and Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music, sounds vaguely as though it might have been inspired by Brahms, though its first movement displays a greater understanding, perhaps, of violin technique than the older composer evidenced (on his own), taking greater advantage of the instrument’s capacity for lush double-stops (in the passionate rush of which Roche, however, seems to struggle to maintain her aplomb—and that may be a result, as Stevenson suggests, of awkwardness in the writing itself). The movement’s opening cadenza-like gesture perhaps signals that this will be a violinist’s, as well as a pianist’s, Sonata. The second movement, a sort of brisk intermezzo lasting only a few seconds more than two minutes, leaves the world of Brahms behind in its combination of alert rhythms and soaring melodic lines. It gives way to a slow movement called “A Burden,” that rises, in Roche’s and Stevenson’s performance, to moving dramatic declamation before subsiding into the relatively dream-like state in which it began. Like the first two movements, this one relies heavily on double-stopping at moments of heightened expression. The gentle beginning of the last movement requires the violinist to soar in higher positions, and Roche tends to sound just a bit insecure in them. But the partners succeed in making the movement—as they do the entire Sonata—sound as though it offers listeners a great deal to explore.
Cyril Rootham read classics at Cambridge, but also at the Royal College of Music with Stanford and Parry. His Sonata, from 1925, sounds more complex harmonically and rhythmically than either of the two works that precede it on the program. Roche and Stevenson bring diverging lines together in the second movement, a Molto adagio of quiet, if not understated, subtlety, but despite Stevenson’s remarks about the influence of Vaughan Williams, if any movement hints at the “Celtic-twilight” school that Stevenson mentions, it’s the last one, with its dancing folk-like influences.
Arthur Benjamin should be familiar to violinists as the composer of two works that Heifetz recorded, the
that Heifetz played with William Primrose. I remember my teacher disparaging the latter work, but I doubt she would have held such a jaundiced view of the Cello Sonatina, with its generally lighthearted good spirits (the three movements’ titles—Preamble, Minuet, and March—tell a great part of the story), with occasional tangy harmonic twists resembling Poulenc’s. Cellist Justin Pearson plays the Sonatina with pianist Sophia Rahman, exhibiting a combination of mastery and insight similar to Roche’s and Stevenson’s, although less exuberance overall (that may be an effect of the work itself).
Dutton’s recorded sound balances both instruments, each in striking richness in the Violin sonatas, and offers a similar tonal portrait of Pearson and Rahman, though the latter two seem less aggressively miked. The performances purport to be the first on CD (in the case of the Violin sonatas, the first recordings, period). That’s a shame, because all the pieces deserved earlier—and frequent—hearings. The works’ interest should be able to propel them not only across the channel but across the ocean as well, especially in such enthusiastic and opulent performances. Generally recommended for the accessible repertoire—and, again, the performances—but recommended with special urgency to Anglophiles and explorers.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Sonatina for Cello and Piano by Arthur Benjamin
Justin Pearson (Cello),
Sophia Rahman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1938; England
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