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An adventurous selection of not-so-well-known sonatas delivered with aplomb

MusicWeb International, Ian Lace

I take my hat off to Ms Midori Komachi in admiration for her enterprise in realising this imaginative collection. She turns in, with pianist Simon Callaghan, very creditable performances of these colourful, off-the-beaten track works. She also contributes some interesting and erudite sleeve-notes suggesting links with Gauguin’s painting Nevermore (Delius was its first owner) and the work of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) especially his The Raven.

The Poe connection is explicit in the case of Ravel who was greatly influenced by Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition. Ravel’s Sonata was inspired by American music of jazz and blues, the second movement especially so with its reference to Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. Komachi and Callaghan clearly relish the chance to let their hair down and make the most of their opportunity to colour this music. The movement begins with the violin emulating a banjo as we are immediately introduced to the spirit of America’s Deep South. The music proceeds with typical Ravelian quirky use of the Gershwin tune. There is another link since the American and jazz influence is apparent in a number of Delius’s compositions. The opening Allegretto is quirky and whimsical too, straddling many moods and including bell-like folk material and gypsy music as well as moments of pathos and nostalgia. The Sonata concludes with a Perpetuum Mobile.

Debussy composed his Violin Sonata shortly before his death from cancer in 1918. It was the third in a projected series of six solo sonatas – the first two being the Cello Sonata of 1915 and the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp of 1916. This sonata was premiered in May 1917 with Debussy at the piano. It was to be his last public performance. The composer referred to this sonata somewhat sardonically as ‘an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war’. It is a spare work but not lacking in imagination and colour. Debussy claimed that it was inspired by scenes from Pelléas and Mélisande.Komachi and Callaghan introduce us, in the first movement, to a mysterious, enigmatic world, of pathos and suffering, the violin part sometimes discordantly wiry. The central Intermède is quirky and it seemed to me to suggest a donkey running around the field rather than the opening of the Finale as Midori suggests – no matter. The finale demands the piano’s lightest most articulate touch and, from the violinist, an embracing of the maximum pitch range without an overt display of ‘showy’ virtuosity.

The Delius Sonata was a joint effort between the composer and his amanuensis, Eric Fenby. Interestingly, Midori Komachi recalls Gauguin’s ideology that “music is the language of the listening eye”. Considering Delius’s blindness, by 1930 when this Third Violin Sonata was composed, she observes, “Just like Gauguin’s Nevermore, Delius’s music opens an infinite space of imagination.” Komachi and Callaghan offer a committed and heartfelt reading of this lovely work. The opening movement just marked ‘Slow’ is a lyrical flow, the music now meandering, now soaring, now skipping. At 1.42 it broadens into one of Delius’s most effulgent melodies. The sunny Andante Scherzandomiddle movement bounces along joyfully and playfully while the concluding Lento is an often intense autumnal reflection.

One of Delius’s greatest friends was Edvard Grieg who had always supported him and encouraged Delius’s father to allow the young Frederick to follow a career in music. Grieg was also known to Ravel and Debussy. So it is fitting that the concert is rounded off with the French violinist, Émile Sauret’s attractive arrangements of two of the most popular pieces in the repertoire: Jeg elsker Dig (Ich Liebe Dich) (I love you only) and Solveigs Sang from Grieg’s Peer Gynt.

An adventurous selection of not-so-well-known sonatas delivered with aplomb.
 
Ian Lace

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04/08/2020