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Michele ESPOSITO (1855-1929)
Violin Sonata in G major No. 1, Op. 32 (1890s?) [19:16]
Violin Sonata in E minor No. 2, Op. 46 (1907) [19:03]
Violin Sonata in A major No. 3, Op. 67 (1920-21) [22:46]
Cello Sonata, Op. 43 (1898) [18:26]
Mia Cooper (violin); William Butt (cello); Lance Coburn (piano)
rec. 3-5 September 2012, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD066 [79:44]

Like Rob Barnett, it was through Hamilton Harty that I first came across the name of Michele Esposito, the Italian-born composer who was for many years a most important figure in Ireland’s musical life. A trawl through the Hallé Orchestra concert programmes from 1925 shows the conductor performing at least two of Esposito’s orchestral works: I’d love to hear Othello. Which may not sound a great trawl, but over a relatively small period of time, and given the prestigious series of Manchester concerts, actually reflects well on the Irish conductor’s continuing admiration for Esposito, to whom he owed so much.
 
The First Violin Sonata is a very richly lyric work. At first I felt that the balance between the two instruments somewhat favoured the piano but in fact there is much careful awareness of the importance of subsidiary violin material, especially in the first movement, and Mia Cooper withdraws gracefully to allow Lance Coburn prominence when necessary. It is almost a fin de siècle work but not one that shows much enthusiasm for the Franco-Belgian school; Franck’s precedent is not followed at all. Esposito’s muse was a much more gentle and refined, elegant one as demonstrated in the Lento. True, he evokes the Dies Irae in the finale, but its contrast with Late-Romantic warmth is effective but not over-demonstrative.
 
The Sonata in E minor was completed in 1907. Again it’s a three-movement work, and sports an expressive recitativo (non-Franckian) in its opening Allegro moderato, in well-constructed standard sonata form. The music’s essentially light-hearted and extrovert quality is cemented in the Andantino, with its rocking rhythms and violin chords of ingenious sonority - and a brief, solemn almost Chorale-like progression. There are hints of Brahms in the violin’s phrasing - though Fauré has been plausibly suggested in respect of Esposito’s overt lyricism. The urgency of the finale, whilst not especially distinctive, is still viable. The Third Sonata was dedicated to Harty. Its opening movement is the longest span of any in this disc. This is probably the sonata that cuts deepest of the three. Quite rhapsodic in its opening, its two central movements - this is the only four-movement sonata - are dominated by a capricious waltz and a rather beautiful Andante cantabile.
 
There is an auxiliary string sonata, and that’s the Cello Sonata. It was dedicated to Henry Bast whom Malcolm MacDonald - whose notes are first-class as always - admits he can’t identify. Bast, who died in 1909, was a German cello professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Whilst I’m in the cellistic mood, can I please put in a word for the musician MM calls ‘a cellist rejoicing in the name of Clyde Twelvetrees’. This was the principal cellist of Harty’s Hallé, whose recording of Walford Davies’s A Solemn Melody graced many a parlour gramophone. He was a terrific player, hugely admired by Harty. That over, I must say I find this sonata the least interesting of the four. It’s slightly patterned after Brahms, and the best movement is the slow one, a kind of dirge with local ‘snaps’.
 
I doubt you’ll have heard a note of Esposito’s music (I hadn’t either) but these well-prepared and sympathetic performances, all premiere recordings, will allow you a portal through which to appreciate his graceful muse; not to forget Miceal O’Rourke’s generous Esposito piano recital on Chandos CHAN 9675.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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