good to see Naxos
revivifying – for the main part in this disc – a Musical Heritage
Society LP recorded back in 1983. The exception is Triptych,
written during 1986 and 1988 and recorded in 1992 by the same
forces. The five chamber works span forty-five years from the
1947 Duo to the Triptych. There’s nothing from the 1960s but
every other decade is covered.
The Duo is a powerfully
argued piece. Some of its more disconsolate passages recall
the writing of Berg’s Violin Concerto and the lyric drive alternates
with an energetic cragginess, with an increasingly urgent tangent
of attack. There are lots of opportunities for the expression
of bowing colour and a dramatic piano part. Importantly, as
the title baldly suggests, it’s a real Duo for the two instruments,
which is not always the case in other works even when the equality
of instruments is implied. The middle section is lyrical and
slow with chances for playing high up the fingerboard and pizzicato
before a pulsating rhythm leads one to a frantic dance that
finally, unexpectedly runs out of steam.
from Lily, Kirchner’s 1973 opera based on Saul Bellow’s
Henderson, The Rain King is an evocative and short
flute solo and in programming terms serves a dual purpose in
bringing some evocative, exotic colour after the Duo and also
preparing the way for the tough and sinewy Trio. Allied to these
qualities is an engagingly elastic melody line but throughout
the trio one is aware of abrasion and outburst. Written continuously
but formed from two interdependent movements the sense of oscillation
and unease, of surging and sapping tension, is palpable and
unremitting for all the pliant lyrical material that is thrown
into sharp relief. It’s not an easy quarter of an hour listen.
Piano Sonata was written in 1948 and after some declamatory
moments launches into some driving animation, taking in bell
like sonorities, clear moments derived from Ravel’s Gaspard
de la nuit and moments of refined reflection. There’s a
fearsome moto perpetuo-like Allegro risoluto. Triptych strikes
a more melancholic note. The opening movement is derived from
Kirchner’s For Solo Violin and is recast for solo cello.
When the violin joins a more voracious texture is generated
and increasingly a driving lyricism that is powerfully communicative
and even – unusual in this composer – moments that seem to summon
up late nineteenth century procedure – and even at one or two
moments almost vestigial trace elements of the Elgar Violin
Concerto’s cadential passages.
must admit that I respond much more powerfully to the Triptych
and the 1947 Duo than to the Piano Sonata and the Trio, which
are altogether more hermetic and forbidding works, forged from
a less directly communicative anvil. Others may well disagree.
But the performers are worthy ambassadors and strike the right
note throughout, whether yielding or defiant.