William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Sonata [27:50]
Two Pieces for Violin and Piano [5:49]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata [14:06]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme d’Habañera [3:42]
Michael Davis (violin)
Rayson Whalley (piano)
rec. 23-24 November 1972, Indigo Sound Studios, Manchester.
CAMEO CLASSICS CC9001CD [51:27]
The Cameo Classics label was founded in 1973 by David Kent-Watson who had built Indigo Sound Studios in Manchester with Bob Auger in the previous year. David and Bob had worked as sound engineers with BBC TV in London and Granada TV in Manchester. Cameo Classics centred on recording unfairly neglected classical music on location, whereas the Indigo Sound Studios entertained the likes of Marc Bolan and the Bay City Rollers. Cameo Classics' first classical recording, Music for Violin and Piano, was recorded at Indigo Studios with Bob Auger engineering the sessions. This recording featured Michael Davis, then leader of the Hallé Orchestra and Hallé pianist, Rayson Whalley. It is re-issued here, the first in a planned series of Cameo Classics CDs to be released by Nimbus.
Michael Davis began to play the violin under the guidance of his father Eric, a Hallé principal. Awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, he continued his training with Hugh Bean - then leader of the Philharmonia. Another scholarship enabled him to study with master violinist, Henryk Szeryng. In 1967 he was invited by Sir John Barbirolli to become associate leader and then co-leader of the Hallé. He was leader of the London Symphony Orchestra during the 1980s and then leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra during the 1990s. Rayson Whalley, a member of the Hallé since 1948, was involved in the golden Barbirolli era as both pianist and percussionist. He assisted Sir John with many premiere performances. He played at sight the score of Sinfonia Antarctica to its composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir John. In addition to activities with the orchestra, he has shown himself to be equally at home with chamber music, as in his partnership with Michael Davis on this CD.
The Walton performance is very good indeed and it can easily hold its own with Tasmin Little’s excellent recording for Chandos (CHAN 10770). This sonata has been criticised in some quarters as being one of Walton’s weaker works but I beg to differ. I find the opening movement in particular to be a worthy bedfellow to the Violin Concerto. Admittedly the second movement Variazioni can outstay its welcome and the music sometimes seems to lose its sense of direction. However, Davis and Whalley remain focused throughout the variations and manage to bring the work to a logical and satisfying close. The second of the Two Pieces is a short, dashing Scherzando, thrown off with great exuberance by Davis. This would have made a good central scherzo for the Violin Sonata.
The Debussy sonata opens with a very well controlled Allegro vivo. The playing in the middle section from around 1:30 is simply ravishing and full of fantasy. The following Intermède is light and cheeky with some great interplay between the two musicians. The Finale is as fiery as you could wish, culminating in an exciting final flourish.
The CD comes to a satisfying conclusion with the brief Ravel Habañera. This is no flashy showpiece designed to end the album with a bang. On the contrary, it is a lovely little work in the Spanish idiom showing how truly musical this partnership is.
The master tape of this recording was beyond repair so the starting point for this reissue was an LP, which was luckily in generally good condition. I must hold my hands up here. I have an association with David Kent-Watson going back to my time in the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra. I carried out the initial LP transfer for him from the only copy of the disc that he had retained. The restoration was then carried out most skilfully by Curt Timmons at Klassic Haus Restorations in the USA. The recording is warm and realistically balanced. Except for a couple of very minor blemishes here and there — only noticeable when played at high volume — it’s hard to tell that the original source was a vinyl LP. This is extremely fine analogue sound and it is very easy on the ear.
I believe this CD to be an important addition to the catalogue. This is a recording that was well worth salvaging and it is a fine example of Michael Davis in wonderful form near the start of his illustrious career.