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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor (1909) [29.29]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor (1917) [28.30]
Bagatelle for violin and piano (1890s) []
Michael Davis (violin)
Nelson Harper (piano)
rec. Weigel Hall, Columbus, Ohio, Aug 1993. DDD

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.


Rob Barnett


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