Friday 6 September 2019

The Late Romantic Violin: music by Vladigerov, Poulenc & Seaborne

Vladigerov, Poulenc, Seabourne - Sheva Contemporary
Pancho Vladigerov, Francis Poulenc, Peter Seabourne - works for violin & piano; Irina Borissova, Giacomo Battarino; Sheva Contemporary
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Three contrasting late Romantic composers, Francis Poulenc, his lesser known Bulgarian contemporary and the contemporary Romantic, Peter Seabourne

This disc on the Sheva Contemporary label comprises three works for violin and piano, played by Irina Borissova (violin) and Giacomo Battarino (piano), from composers all of whom might be described as late Romantic, the Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Major, Op. 1 by the 20th century Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov, 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Violin and Piano and contemporary British composer Peter Seaborne's A Portrait and Four Nocturnes.

Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978) was a musical prodigy who emerged in Bulgaria at the time that the country was developing independence from Turkey. Vladigerov studied in Berlin and then worked there until he returned to his homeland in 1932.
His Sonata for Violin and Piano was written in 1914, two years after he started studying at Berlin College of Music. It is a precociously mature work, Romantic in style in three movements. The melodic and flowing 'Agitato' opening is unashamed in its Romanticism, whilst the 'Andante cantabile' is lyrically passionate with some livelier moments, and plenty of opportunities for Irina Borissova's violin to sing. The final movement, 'Allegro con brio' is an upbeat rondo with a recognisable dance element.

From the 1940s onward, Francis Poulenc turned increasingly to chamber music and wrote a series of sonatas and mixed ensemble pieces. His Violin Sonata was written in 1942/43 and dedicated to the memory of the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. In fact, it was Poulenc's fourth go at writing a violin sonata, an instrument with which he never entirely felt in sympathy. The work was premiered by the distinguished French violinist Ginette Neveu with the composer at the piano.

The 'Allegro con fuoco' opening movement is vigorous and vividly played, and it often heads off pell-mell though there are some bitter-sweet moments too. And there is a haunting use of major and minor in the 'Intermezzo' with some lovely moments though it has to be added that occasionally the piece veers a little close to salon music. The melodic 'Presto Tragico' is fast and spiky. This is perhaps not quite Poulenc at his prime, and one suspects that the Flute Sonata (from 1957) is a greater work but there is much of interest here.

The final work on the disc, A Portrait and Four Nocturnes is by the contemporary English composer Peter Seabourne. Born in 1960, Seaborne studied at Cambridge with Robin Holloway but abandoned writing music for 12 years, returning to it almost by accident in 2001 with a language which was more explicitly tonal and Romantic than that he had used earlier.

A Portrait was written in 2010 and is intended to be a portrait of the composer Chopin in the manner of Schumann's Carnaval, Seaborne's wished to suggest Chopin the full-blooded Romantic rather than the droopy poet. The movement is impetuous and impassioned with both the violin and piano creating complex textures which get positively strenuous. Whilst I enjoyed the movement immensely, I have to confess that Chopin did not always spring to mind when listening to the music. The four subsequent Nocturnes are night pieces, with an atmosphere closer to that evoked by Bartok than a gentle Romantic Dream. Nocturne I: Moonshadows has wisps and fragments of melody thrown between violin and piano, with hints of jazz in the background. Nocturne II: Nothing but Moonlight is quieter, starting quite low key but developing into something complex and passionate. Nocturne III: Nightmare starts all delicate flurries and silence, but as the nightmare develops it becomes strenuous and vigorous. Finally, Nocturne IV: Invictus is rather evocative, though with passionate moments.

This is an intriguing disc combining an apparently disparate trio of composers into a surprisingly satisfying recital with three works whose presence in the concert hall is often lacking, and with finely musical performances from Irina Borissova and Giacomo Battarino.

Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978) - Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, Op.1
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) - Violin Sonata
Peter Seabourne (born 1960) - A Portrait and Four Nocturnes
Irina Borissova (violin)
Giacomo Battarino (piano)
Available from Amazon.

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