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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Sonata in D minor, Op.9 (1904) [22:25]
Nocturne and Tarantella, Op.28 (1915) [12:26]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Violin Sonata in C major (1926-27) [22:47]
Romance in A major (1901) [5:12]
Nocturne in E flat major (1906) [6:42]
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin)
Huw Watkins (piano)
rec. April 2015, Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, Essex, UK
SIGNUM SIGCD432 [69:31]

Admitting that the link is ‘tenuous’, booklet note writer Robert Matthew-Walker does his best to propose that the thread is César Franck’s epochal Violin Sonata of 1886. Be that as it may, it’s a conjunction of near-opposites when programming Szymanowski with Hahn.

Hahn’s Violin Sonata of 1926-27 is bathed in early Fauréan waters – the Fauré of 1890, say, rather than the more astringent composer of the Second Violin Sonata. The first movement is lyric and here played with so rhapsodic an approach that it feels even more vaporous than usual. Nevertheless Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins play with real sensitivity and colouristic control, and imbue the central movement with deft characterisation; Waley-Cohen more inclined to elegance and refinement of tone, whilst Watkins is more given to assertive interjections. The finale is, once more, relaxed, but the violinist’s veiling of her tone is another marker of her expressive sensitivity in this performance. I prefer a more robust approach, but this is a personal matter, so enjoy rather more Charles Sewart’s recording with Ian Brown (Hyperion Helios CDH55379), though neither of these teams is as persuasive as Denise Soriano. She recorded the sonata on 78, but a live performance has recently appeared with the splendid support of Jeanne-Marie Darré (Meloclassic MC2015), and this brings the music truly to life with the kind of quivering tension that non-French teams invariably fail to bring to Hahn.

The two sweetmeats offer salon pleasures. The Romance, played delicately with little expressive ‘gulps’ from the violinist, is paired with the Nocturne which is seldom played or recorded and has plenty of effective charm.

As might perhaps be anticipated, Waley-Cohen’s tone is softer-grained than usually found in Szymanowski. Her strength is in the colouristic prism she employs, especially noticeable when attending to the patetico elements of the first movement of the Sonata – fine, revealing musicianship - and the inward delicacy of the central Andantino. This implied fragility offers an interesting gloss on a work that, when played by an Oistrakh is an altogether bigger proposition. If it’s therefore something of a lop-sided view that we’re being shown by Waley-Cohen and Watkins, at least it’s a markedly unusual one. The Nocturne and Tarantella offers the stiffest challenge to the duo’s expressive reserve. It’s here that its limitations are most noticeable, as the transitions sound a touch lumpy, and the sense of Iberian panache is sublimated. That little section that seems to echo a passage from the Sibelius Violin Concerto is more tangible in the hands of a master Szymanowski player such as Leonid Kogan, whose tensile bravura rather eclipses this one.

The finely recorded Sonata performances offer a rather poignant and reflective view of the music. The disc is certainly thought-provoking and therefore the opposite of received opinion in the repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf



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