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Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Violin Sonata in B major (1892) [26:22]
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1905-15) [21:12]
Violin Sonata No. 2 (1923) [11:38]
Violin Sonata No. 3 (1930) [18:02]
Susanne Stanzeleit (violin); Gustáv Fenyő (piano)
rec. St Silas, Camden Town, London, 14-16 February 1994
NAXOS 8.572261 [77:13]
Experience Classicsonline

It seems such a pity that Delius’s chamber music, including his four sonatas for violin and piano, are so often ignored in favour of his larger-scale orchestral works. They are in fact quintessential Delius: dreamy, rhapsodic, sensual and subtly impressionistic.

Susanne Stanzeleit studied with such luminaries as Kogan, Milstein and Neaman. Gustáv Fenyö is a descendant of Joseph Joachim and one of Scotland’s leading musicians. Together they offer the four sonatas in competition to Tasmin Little and Piers Lane’s admired 1997 recording originally on the now defunct Conifer label but reissued on RCA Red Seal (74321 987082 with works for orchestra by Frank Bridge).

Michael Cookson in his MusicWeb International review of this recording wrote: “Tasmin Little’s and Piers Lane’s expressive playing is of the highest quality giving a sense of ‘time suspended‘. Little’s violin has a really beautiful tone and Lane plays most sympathetically. It is hard to imagine these works played better.” I would entirely agree.

The Naxos artists offer a forceful reading of the first movement of the 1892 (Op. posth.) Violin Sonata in B major its brio first pages sturdily stated. Little and Lane are faster (7:42 as against the Naxos 8:26) bringing more of a sense of joie de vivre to the music and a more romantic feel to the more lyrical pages that include a quote from Delius’s just-completed first opera, Irmelin. The second movement begins and progresses introspectively and intimately until the central processional episode. Stanzeleit and Fenyö are considerably slower (9:45 against 8:06) and plodding. Little and Lane are much more poetic and convincing; their beautifully nuanced reading offering far more light and shade.

Delius’s Violin Sonata No. 1 was begun in 1905 when its first two movements were completed but it remained unfinished until 1915. Its predominant mood is of sweet reveries and nostalgia. The music is dance-like with snatches of bird-song melody and the odd passing cloud. Tasmin Little has written that this work has become one of her favourite sonatas to play. She is a dedicated Delian; a keen member of the Delius Society. This shows in her heart-rending reading and the music does dance along so much more joyfully than their new competition. Having said that the newcomers’ reading, although somewhat cooler, is quite moving.

The Second one-movement Violin Sonata, Delius’s shortest, was written only five years after the end of the Great War yet its prevalent character is one of optimism. Its cheerfulness and calm introspection is joyfully conveyed by Little and Lane who inject just the apposite amount of nostalgic regret at the sonata’s heart. The work is amazingly confident and firm considering the advance of the malady that was to cripple Delius’s remaining years. The last third or so of the work was apparently written down for him by his wife Jelka. Susanne Stanzeleit brings an engaging sweetness and sensitivity to the Naxos equivalent.

Delius’s Third Sonata was set down in 1930 four years before the composer’s death by his amanuensis, Eric Fenby, although some of the work had already been written down by Jelka. The first performance in London, in November 1930 was by Arnold Bax and May Harrison. Tasmin Little in her notes to the original Conifer release wrote - “I have known and played [it] the longest. Fenby gave me a great deal of help on it while I was a thirteen-year-old student and his warm words of advice and on style and interpretation were invaluable … It was therefore with great sadness that I learned that Eric passed away on the day that Piers and I began to make this recording. I will always cherish the memory of this dear man, without whom some of Delius’s greatest works would never have come to life.” This special insight is clear in every page of this glorious reading. A burden that the Naxos duo simply cannot compete with.

This new recording simply cannot compete with the ravishingly beautiful readings of the same works by Tasmin Little and Piers Lane. 

Ian Lace 



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