It hardly seems possible that two cycles of Michele Esposito’s violin sonatas should appear one after the other but that’s precisely what has happened. Those of us who have spent some time wondering about his music, great and small, largely as a result of reading about his connection with Hamilton Harty, should rightfully give thanks to the silver disc and the enterprise of Champs Hill and, now, here, Brilliant Classics.
Sometimes a new listen to music with which one is largely unfamiliar and which has not had time to resonate, can lead to changed perceptions. Sometimes it seems charged with a greater level of intensity or individuality. I can’t say that this has been my experience, but the interpretative viewpoint is subtly different in these two recordings which, in any case, are to a degree complementary. The Italian duo of Carmelo Andriani and Vincenzo Maltempo – a fabulous Alkan
player – recorded their discs in June 2014 whereas Mia Cooper and Lance Coburn set down their Champs Hill
disc back in September 2012. Champs Hill added the Cello Sonata to the three violin sonatas to round out an all-string sonata recital, an eminently sensible solution. Brilliant, however, has taken another approach which has necessitated two discs, though you’ll find that the Champs Hill is a third as expensive again as the Brilliant so that financial outlay isn’t a determining factor.
Repertoire, however, might be a factor, as the Italian duo plays both Irish Rhapsodies and examples from the Opp. 56 and 57 sets of Irish Melodies. There was plenty of room for all of them.
As I wrote about the First Sonata in that Champs Hill recording this 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
. The Italian duo is recorded in a much dryer, less resonant acoustic and their performance, as throughout, is more thrusting and impulsive. Cooper is by far the warmer tonalist but Andriani is the edgier but also more bittersweet interpreter; his approach to the Dies Irae quotation in the finale is also more complex.
I noted that Brahms tends to be cited as an influence from the Second Sonata’s appearance onwards but Fauréan lyricism can also plausibly be adduced. Again the Italians are more daring and colour-conscious players, employing greater rubati and the violinist’s vibrato is wider and deeper. Where they seek out the music’s drama, the British duo locate its elegance and refined, sublimated passion. Both pairings take a long-term view of the opening movement of No.3, the work dedicated to Harty. This is the most harmonically interesting of the sonatas, and set against the greater extroversion of the Brilliant team we find a greater sense of nostalgia and a more veiled expression with the Champs Hill players.
Different sides of the same coin? Perhaps it’s better to note that they find different perspectives on Esposito. The Italians add those two Rhapsodies, whose somewhat uneasy reconciliation of bravura recitativo late-romanticism and folkloric gesture sounds like an attempt to graft Sarasate’s precedent onto Irish music. Of the two the second has the more interesting features, not least Sarasatean whistling harmonics, and much lyricism, though the overtly folksy material in the second part of the first Rhapsody is certainly energetic and puckish. The Irish airs are transcriptions and are attractive, and brief and often melancholic.
It’s interesting that Andriani forsakes the Guarneri he used in the sonatas for a contemporary Italian model for the Rhapsodies and Airs. I’m not sure quite why. It’s also worth noting that Jeremy Dibble’s fine notes offer specific dates for the sonatas that vary substantially from those used by Champs Hill.
Can I offer advice if you need to decide on a particular disc? Yes, but not necessarily very helpful advice. Sound quality: Champs Hill. Esposito and the Violin: Brilliant. Esposito and the Sonata: Champs Hill. Esposito the Passionate: Brilliant. Esposito the Lyricist: Champs Hill.