Monday 19 October 2015

Tamsin Waley-Cohen & Huw Watkins - Works for violin & piano by Hahn and Szymanowski

Tamsin Waley-Cohen
Szymanowski, Hahn; Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Huw Watkins; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 30 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Big, bold and brave; an intriguing combination of violin and piano works by a pair of composers not renowned for the genre

This new disc on the Signum Classics label from violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, accompanied by Huw Watkins (himself a composer as well as pianist) has the intriguing combination of works by Karol Szymanowski and Reynaldo Hahn, with a violin sonata by each plus some incidental works, Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella and Hahn's Romance and Nocturne.

At first sight the two composers would seem to have little in common, the Ukrainian born Polish composer Karol Szymanowski and the Venezualan born, French naturalised Reynaldo Hahn. In fact, both exist somewhat on the fringe of mainstream 20th century music, both known for a small-ish group of works and neither well known for chamber music. Robert Matthew-Walker's booklet note also links them via the influence of the Franck violin sonata and Franck's use of cyclic composition, but this influence is probably traceable in many early 20th century sonatas.

Karol Szymanowski
Karol Szymanowski
Szymanowski wrote his Violin Sonata in D Minor op.9 in 1904, when he was just 21. It was dedicated to an amateur violinist friend but was not played until 1909 when Pawel Kochanski and Artur Rubenstein played it, and Kochanski would go on to be the dedicatee of, and to premiere, Szymanowski's violin concerto. The sonata was written before Szymanowski really developed his mature style and it is a capable work in which the influences (Franck, Richard Strauss, Scriabin) are easily detectable.

It is a big bold work, in three movements and opens with an Andante moderato, patetico which starts of in a highly dramatic, rhapsodic manner and continues highly impulsive. The movement is quite intense with a good sense of drama from the performers. Tamsin Waley-Cohen plays with vibrant singing tone, warmed by vibrato. The middle movement is Andante but has a scherzo section in the middle. It starts with a quiet thoughtful piano, joined by just a thread of violin tone with lovely fine grained tone from Waley-Cohen. It is a lyrical song-like movement, interrupted by the perky scherzo, and ending with some real romantic passion. The final movement, Allegro molto, quasi presto is vibrant and full of romantic energy, with Waley-Cohen providing a sense of an ecstatically sung line no matter how many notes there are.

Reynaldo Hahn
Reynaldo Hahn
Reynaldo Hahn's Romance in A major was an early work, written in 1901. It is an elegant, salon-ish multi-sectional piece which starts with a slow introduction and develops into something more complex. Waley-Cohen's tone quality here is coloured by her lovely use of portamenti, completely in period but still rarely used today.

Hahn's Sonata for Violin and Piano in C major dates from 1926/27. Again, a three movement work it opens with a large scale (over 10 minutes long) movement marked Sans lenteur, tendrement which is again elegant and melodic, with the music flowing fluidly and getting rather rhapsodic at times. Though Waley-Cohen plays with fine-grained graceful tone and is fluently accompanied by Watkins, they cannot quite disguise the fact that the movement does ramble a bit. The short second movement (three minutes long) is fast and furious, one passage with a long held violin note over a busy piano was very striking indeed. The long (over nine minutes) final movement returns to calm poise for the introduction, again with some lovely portamenti, before the gently haunting (and dare I say it, salon-ish) main part of the movement. It gets romantic briefly, but the overall feel is of flowing charm.

Hahn's Nocturne in E flat major is another early piece, dating from 1906 and full of haunting, delicate charm.

Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella was written in 1915 and again premiered by Pawel Kochanski. The opening Nocturne's haunting and evocative with Waley-Cohen playing with just a thread of sound. It is as if the night music of Bartok had taken a turn for the exotic. This exotic feel continues into the wonderful Tarantella which is fast and brilliant.

This is a fascinating disc, a window onto some of the other highways and byways of 20th century violin music. The contrasting styles of Hahn and Szymanowski work well together on the disc and the performances from Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins are exemplary but are big and bold. This is in many ways a courageous disc, with performances to match and should win many admirers for these works.

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) - Violin Sonata in D minor, Op.9 (1904) [22.25]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) - Romance in A major (1901) [5.12]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) - Sonata for Violin and Piano in C major (1926/27) [22.46]
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) - Nocturne in E flat major (1906) [6.42]
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) - Nocturne and Tarantella Op.28 (1915) [12.26]
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)
Huw Watkins (piano)
Recorded Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, Essex, 1-3 Aprill 2015

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