The First Sonata was written for the 1909
Cobbett competition. It won first prize. Here the performance
by Davis and Harper is full-blooded; no bleached pastoral this.
The work recalls the plunging and surging romance of the sonatas
by Franck and Lekeu with a touch of Rachmaninov along the way.
Some typically English gestures appear at 5.33 in the Romance
where the echo is, for 30 or so seconds, from Vaughan Williams'
song cycle On Wenlock Edge. The little rippling piano arpeggiation
under the ever-in-flight folksy violin theme (almost Hungarian)
is a presentiment of Ireland's full maturity. Speaking of which
we come to the blazingly confident Second Sonata. This
was written at the deathly zenith of the Great War and 'made'
Ireland's reputation. People write of this work's violence but
its long dancingly rhythmic lines more often call up pastoral
impressions and nostalgia although there is pain too in the close
of the first movement. An acidic nostalgia and homesick pathos
are extremely well put across by Davis and Harper in the poco
lento. The finale, after a decidedly dark Baxian introduction,
represents a turning away from pain - a desperate embracing of
joyous simplicity. This includes a chaffing episode like playground
cat-calling with a macabre edge.
The main direct competition is from Hyperion
CDA66853 from Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards. This disc also
includes early morceaux in the shape of Berceuse and Cavatina
as well as the composer's 1919 violin and piano transcription
of The Holy Boy. Barritt and Edwards are more torrential
than Davis and Harper in both sonatas (27.58, 25.19 respectively)
and the recording has more refined, smoother sonics. While Barritt
does not lack for attack Davis has a more vibrant and in-your-face
tone. Your preferences between the two will change depending on
your mood. Yfrah Neaman recorded both on LP in the halcyon days
of Lyrita's activity and then came back to the sonatas in Chandos's
2CD collection of all the mature chamber music. I do not know
the Chandos set but in any event it is not directly comparable
as a coupling.
The Davis and Harper duo are familiar with British
music. In 1989 they gave a concert of British duo sonatas at the
Wigmore Hall, London. This included a work dedicated to them,
Wilfred Josephs' Third Violin Sonata. Davis is British born and
if I remember correctly was the leader of the LSO for a while
before moving to the States in 1980s.
Red blooded performances of the two sonatas recorded
up close and personal.