Tuesday 19 September 2017

Subito! debut recital from Julia Hwang

Subito! Julia Hwang - Signum
Grieg, RVW, Lutoslawski, Wieniawski; Julia Hwang, Charles Matthews; St John's Cambridge/Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 13 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Maturity and charm shine out in this debut recital from the young violinist recently graduated from St John's College

This recording by the young violinist Julia Hwang was released concurrently with her graduation. Hwang studied at St John's College, Cambridge and this disc is the fist non-choral disc on St John's imprint (on Signum Classics). Accompanied by pianist Charles Matthews, Hwang plays an eclectic programme which she describes as a personal recital, the pieces reflecting, in some part, her journey with the violin through adolescence; Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45, RVW's The Lark Ascending, Witold Lutoslawski's Subito and Henryk Wienawski's Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l'Opera 'Faust' de Gounod, Op. 20.

Grieg's third violin sonata dates from 1887, twenty years after his youthful first two sonatas, and the sonata may have been written for the young Italian violinist Teresina Tua, whom he referred to jokingly as 'the little fiddle-fairy on my troll hill'! In a conventional three movements, with the first in sonata form, at first the Norwegian lyric breeze seems far away as Hwang and Matthews start with Brahmsian passion. Hwang plays with an appealing, warm sound, with a nice depth to it. But though the work is classically structured, the Grieg of the Lyric Pieces is not far away and soon the mood gives way to the lyrical freshness, and this lyric melody continues into the second movement. The third movement is a vivid, yet sophisticated folk-dance, bright and breezy yet a long way from Grieg's Hardanger fiddle-inspired music.

Next comes a work better known in its orchestral guise, RVW's The Lark Ascending, inspired by a Meredith poem. RVW wrote the work during the war, completing it in 1919 and it was premiered first in the version for violin and piano. Hwang makes a big change to her sound for this work, replacing the rich passion with an expressive thread of sound. The use of piano accompaniment makes the work more intimate, and both performers reflect this and you hardly miss the orchestra because they make this version so very personal with Hwang bringing a lovely range of colour to the violin part. The ending is pure magic.

Witold Lutoslawski's Subito was written in 1992 as a test piece for the 1994 Indianapolis International Violin competition. As Lutoslawski's projected violin concerto remained only a clutch of sketches at his death, Subito is the composer's last work for violin. It is a short but demanding piece, full of bravura effects, drama and changes of mood, all of which Hwang encompasses with mature poise.

The final work in the programme is pure bravura showmanship, the fantasy on themes from Gounod's Faust by the Polish virtuoso violinist Henryk Wieniawski. It is a delightful piece, full of simple little moments and lyrical melodies which the composer then whips up into a virtuosic frenzy. Pure showing off, but quite delightful when carried off with panache like this.

Throughout the programme, Hwang is finely partnered by Charles Matthews who provides support and companionship. In all four works, Julia Hwang shows admirable poise and technical control, but most importantly she plays with remarkable maturity and charm so that more virtuoso pieces become far more than showpieces. An impressive and delightful debut

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) - Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - The Lark Ascending
Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) - Subito
Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) - Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l'Opera Faust de Gounod, Op.20
Julia Hwang (violin)
Charles Matthews (piano)
Recorded in the Britten Studio, Snape, Suffolk 26-28 September 2016
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