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Edward ELGAR
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Gerald FINZI
Elegy for Violin and Piano
William WALTON
Violin Sonata
Daniel Hope (violin); Simon Mulligan (piano)
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Elgar's Sonata for Violin and Piano wastes no time asserting its allegiance to late Romanticism. Intense Brahmsian themes and legato figures alternate with the serene. The opening bars burst into the room like partygoers tipsy from Liebfraumilch. Written at the end of World War I, this piece is a lament for what Elgar perceived as lost innocence. His approach involves great variation in tonal shades, producing fin-de-siècle motives like nostalgia and regret. At once point, the violin actually sounds like sobbing. Remarkably, violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Simon Mulligan elicit subtlety from Elgar where there is precious little. Hope twists mood and accent from the many scalar ascents, sometimes shaking them when they require melodrama, other times coaxing them onward like shy children. Movement II (Romance and Adagio) suggests a dance-like tune at first, but one that never breaks into exhilaration, as if content to sit on the sidelines and reflect. Through dominant chords and major key shifts, Elgar expresses courage in the last movement, but tempered by perplexity with the calamitous twentieth century. The musicians are utterly faithful to this music, giving it the melodic expression its calls for and deserves.

Gerald Finzi's 1940 Elegy for Violin and Piano keens for the lost pastoral and romantic spirit, both squashed by the encroaching World War II. Romanticism runs thick in Finzi's blood. (He set Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality.) This piece's melancholic first theme engenders images of youths pining for the unobtainable. There are several spontaneous shifts in tonality, such as the one about two minutes into the piece, then one a minute later. Such shifts keep the lyricism strong in the same way a lyric poem connects its nature description to the poet's psychological state. It returns several times to its first theme, varying the piano accompaniment only slightly. The performers expertly convey the dense layers of regret in this brief piece. It has a mid-nineteenth century feel, perhaps because Finzi believed he could "shake hands with a good friend over the centuries." There is no trace of dissonance. Even when the violin wails at its peak-the lament as the war intrudes-the music doesn't smooth its furrowed brow. Its ff strains rave on, but with a sharper sense of urgency. The penultimate melody doesn't depart radically in style from the opening one, but instead dwindles tastefully to its death, like a verismo opera heroine.

Like those of his compatriots Gerald Finzi and Edward Elgar, William Walton's Violin Sonata is a romantic piece, but one with dense layers of complexity. Although his piece crosses similar territory to theirs, it explores higher ground and deeper caverns. Its thirty minutes are like a thirty-day love affair, filled with tempests, ecstasy, and reflection. In the first movement surprising shifts in tempo and volume make the music a poor candidate for a late night soporific. The lead melody never meanders but instead changes its textures like a leaf through the seasons. Just when the intensity seems about to break, Walton slows it so it arches like a caressed cat. Violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Simon Mulligan play the variations in II with such skill that they don't seem like variations at all, but rather thinly connected themes. It begins with a lurking tension then explodes dramatically, with the melody propped by staccato chords. This is Waltonian drama rather than Elgarian melodrama. At one point, the violin plays a haunting pizzicato, a segment that Hope plays with the loopy abandon he learned from his Schnittke and Weill interpretations (NI 5582). Don't miss this one. It's one of the great twentieth century violin sonatas.

Peter Bates

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