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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Sonata (1947-48, rev.1949-50) [27:50]
Two Pieces for Violin and Piano (1951) [5:49]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G minor (1916-17) [14:06]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme d’Habañera (1907-08) [3:42]
Michael Davis (violin)
Rayson Whalley (piano)
rec. 23-24 November 1972, Indigo Sound Studios, Manchester.

Michael Davis had a clear affinity with Walton’s music. In addition to these recordings, he re-recorded the Sonata and the Two Pieces several years later for another small label, Orion, this time with pianist Rosemary Platt. The sonata came out in 1978 on ORS 78292 and the Two Pieces a year later on ORS 79360. To have recorded non-canonic works so rapidly is certainly unusual, though certainly not unprecedented in the–then burgeoning world of small LP labels.

I like Davis’s Walton. The Sonata is controlled but passionately conceived and the slower passages in particular are notable for a controlled lyric charge at sometimes daring dynamic levels. The playing is very deft, and the sense of melancholic depth as tangible as would hope to hear. Similarly in the variations second movement much here is finely contrasted and performed. Tempi sound right and convincing in their terms. Above all, the sense of characterisation is sure, pacing natural and the dynamic range, as noted, suitably wide. There are a number of classic recordings of this work, one way or another – Menuhin, Gingold, Rosand, Rostal and Staryk – to favour the fiddlers – have all recorded it and there are newer recordings from which to choose, which will please those only interested in the latest sound. This is however an interesting and perceptive reading and shouldn’t be overlooked. The duo plays the Two Pieces nicely as well, ensuring the lyricism of the former is brought out, as well as the folkloric impetus of the latter.

The Debussy Sonata is rather less recommendable. The recording has something of an echo and Davis plays with an unyielding vibrato. The effect is quite romanticised in the modern manner but lacking in quicksilver Gallic qualities such as one finds in the far faster and more stylistically-conscious performances by the duos of Dubois and Maas, and Francescatti and Casadesus. The aggressive accents and suave tone production sound too steely and whilst ensemble is again good I don’t hear much in the way of ‘fantasque’. Davis also re-recorded Ravel’s Pièce en forme d’Habañera later in the decade, on another obscure label called Jennings [M08P 4016] this time with a pianist called M Suhs; I’ve not been able to find the first name. Thoughtful though the performance is, I found it just a touch premeditated.

Davis and Rayson Whalley were both colleagues in the Hallé Orchestra and form a strong collaboration here. These recordings are now well over forty years old and I’m not sure how they will fare in the market place but the Walton is certainly a strong example of Michael Davis’s strength in this repertoire. Are there any off-air examples of him in the Concerto, I wonder?

Jonathan Woolf

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