These are romantically expressive performances, richly voiced, and warmly conveyed. Both Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe sound utterly committed performers in this repertoire with Little’s stirring, vibrato-laden playing bringing a particularly passionate weight to the two sonatas. The Fauré emerges with real intensity in this reading though the opening movement’s caesurae seem very slightly overdone. It’s certainly an expansive conception of the opening Allegro
, and those who know the recordings of Thibaud (with Cortot) or Grumiaux may well find it lacks sufficient momentum to convey its youthful buoyancy. Nevertheless, the slow movement is richly argued but unindulged, with precise pizzicati and clean passagework, and the finale is taken at a convincing Allegro quasi presto
. The generous recorded acoustic suits the expansive warmth of the performance.
Lekeu’s Sonata makes a fine disc-mate and is a work that has seldom lacked insightful performers. Once again powerful intensity is the approach, perhaps with more justification than in the companion sonata. Roscoe’s stalking piano figures in the vif et passionné
central panel of the opening movement are particularly striking, and so are the carefully graded dynamics that allow both musicians to transition from one section to another. The slow movement is lovingly phrased, ardently eloquent with much colour and poignant depth of feeling. Little certainly doesn’t hold back - though other pairings have brought rather more reserve to bear, which can serve to heighten the contrasts in the sonata. She and Roscoe are not as driving in the finale as is the case in that classic early 1980s recording for French EMI by Augustin Dumay and Jean-Philippe Collard, though the British duo are weightier. One appreciates with Little and Roscoe, however, that no attempt is made to highlight the violin at the expense of the piano. In fact at a few points the piano almost overparts the fiddle. Of more recent recordings Ibragimova and Tiberghien are much more reticent than Little and Roscoe. Older masters include Henri Koch, who recorded it twice, Grumiaux – his remake is to be preferred to the more sprawling first attempt – and the pre-war Menuhin 78.
The final piece is Ravel’s 1897 Sonata Movement, which was only published and, it’s believed, first performed in 1975. This modal piece draws a much less overtly expressive response from the duo, as is only proper given the stylistic disparities between the works. This allows the constant fluctuations of tempo and mood to flow the more effectively.
Roger Nichols writes the customarily authoritative booklet notes.
There’s no indication that this is the first volume in a series of French, or Franco-Belgian sonatas from this duo, in the same way that they are recording a series of British sonatas for Chandos. However, I do hope they can be encouraged to record Saint-Saëns and to take on Fauré
’s second sonata, so often and so unfairly overlooked.