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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for violin and piano (1886) [28:36]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Romance Op. 28 (1877) [7:09]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Sonata for violin and piano Op. 9 (1904) [21:53]
Romance Op. 23 (1910) [7:27]
Notturno e Tarantella Op. 28 (1915) [11:09]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, 25-27 April 2016
CHANDOS CHAN10940 [76:47]

This may be considered rather loosely as a recital of French-school works, only Fauré being actually French, as Franck was Belgian and Szymanowski Polish. Franck’s violin sonata is of course one of the mainstays of the repertoire and one of the small but wonderful group of chamber works he composed in his last years, the others being the piano quintet and the string quartet. The Fauré and Szymanowski works here are not their respective composers’ finest works for this combination, but they are good pieces and well worth hearing, particularly by this team.

To begin with the Franck, I was immediately struck by how well Tasmin Little and Piers Lane work together – he is one of her two regular duo partners, the other being Martin Roscoe. He relishes the harmonies Franck lays down in the opening Allegretto while she begins gently and lyrically, evoking indeed the seraphic spirit which Franck’s pupils attributed to their master. Her tone gets more full-bodied as she floats the theme over Lane’s flowing left hand but can also refine it away to nothing when called for. In the virtuoso second movement she is quite different: rich and forceful while Lane negotiates the tricky piano part with aplomb. In the slow movement, marked Recitativo-Fantasia the challenge is to hold it together despite its many changes of tempo and mood, now dreamy and now impassioned. This team keep it moving, a good solution as it can easily bog down. The celebrated canonic finale finds them matching each other’s phrasing and rising to the climax in which the violin soars above the piano which at one point sounds like a carillon of bells.

Fauré’s Romance begins like a Nocturne, a form in which he was no less a master than Chopin, but the violin line gets increasingly elaborate, sometimes rising to stratospheric heights. A troubled middle section provides a contrast but Little’s sweet violin line continues to soothe despite the anguish coming from Lane’s piano.

Szymanowski’s sonata is an early work rather showing the influence of Franck’s, along with occasional hints of Wagner and Reger. Little and Lane adopt a meditative approach to the discursive first movement. The Andantino which follows shows a folk influence, but closer to Chopin than to Szymanowski’s later impressionist manner. The violin writing is mercurial with frequent changes of mood. A scherzando middle section features pizzicato passages alternating with bowed ones, while the piano writing is percussive. The final Allegro is stormy, and begins as if it is going to be canonic, like the finale of the Franck. In fact it is looser than that and moves through storm to triumph.

Szymanowski’s Romance is lyrical but continually modulating in the manner of Reger, whom the composer much admired at the time. I particularly admired the way Little varied her tone, building to a long climax before dying away.

The Notturno and Tarantella come from Szymanowski’s impressionist period, in which he produced his most characteristic works, including the first violin concerto and the third symphony. The Notturno opens eerily with double stopped fifths on the violin. This is followed by Orientalising filigree work on both instruments. Suddenly they break into a vigorous but irregular dance of a vaguely Spanish character, with, among other things, guitar-like strumming across the strings on the violin and forceful piano writing. The ending is as ghostly as the opening. The Tarantella is fast, furious and virtuosic, with the main theme somewhat reminiscent of Debussy’s piano piece Masques. This shows a completely different side of the composer from that of the languorous dreamer we sometimes take him for, and it makes a rousing close to this recital.

I was throughout engaged by Tasmin Little’s complete command of her instrument: the way she can move across a wide range of expression and vary her tone from phrase to phrase as needed. Her technique is immaculate and her intonation impeccable. Piers Lane is of course well known as a soloist in his own right, and I particularly treasure his recordings of Scriabin’s Préludes and Études, works which require both power and delicacy. He provides both these qualities here and works well with his partner. They make a real duo and are not just two soloists put in a room together. The recording is warm without harshness at the climaxes. The violin is balanced slightly forward, but that is needed in an audio-only recording and does not distract. The sleevenote by Roger Nichols is helpful; it describes the Fauré Romance after rather than before the Szymanowski sonata; perhaps a change of order was made at the last minute but this playing sequence works well. We are told that Piers Lane plays a Steinway Model D piano but not that Tasmin Little plays a 1757 Guadagnini violin.

There is no exact equivalent of this programme elsewhere. There are many recordings of the Franck sonata, so if I say this can stand beside my two personal; favorites, which are Kyung Wha Chung with Radu Lupu on Decca 421 154 and Pierre Amoyal with Pascal Rogé on Decca 444 172 or 476 8463, this is high praise. The Fauré Romance can be found in a number of mixed recitals and also in one of his complete violin and piano works, by Pierre Amoyal and Pascal Rogé on Decca 4762180. For the Szymanowski works, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien on Hyperion CDA67703 set the standard, but Tasmin Little and Piers Lane offer an equally valid view.

I greatly enjoyed this recital and hope that this team will give us more, such as, for example, the Fauré sonatas (she has already recorded the first, with Martin Roscoe), and Szymanowski’s Mythes, his finest work for this combination.

Stephen Barber



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