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David COLLINS (b.1953)
Violin Sonata No. 1 [14.17]
Sonata for Violin or Oboe [7.50]
Sette Invenzione [13.39]
Violin Sonata No 2 [11.41]
Oriental Fantasy [10.41]
Duo Ardoré (Rebecca Raimondi (violin), Alessandro Viale (piano))
rec. 2017, Steinway Recording, Fulbeck

David Collins falls into the pattern of many composers throughout history who, although trained as a composer at University (in his case, under Anthony Gilbert) had to earn a living doing something completely different. Keeping his hand in, as it were, over that time, and then on taking early retirement from dentistry and now living in Lancashire, he has found time to compose, dismissing most of his earlier music and starting afresh now with a fully fledged and individual approach. The result is this CD, the first devoted to any of his music.

As a good demonstration of Collins’ originality and the way he looks at composition through a different lens, one could do no worse than start with the Oriental Fantasy. This very enjoyable ten-minute piece works on two levels. First in its division into five sections various oriental scales and melodic contours are introduced, inspired, says the composer by “reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino”, telling of Marco Polo’s visit to Kublai Khan and his description of his home city, Venice. Secondly, Collins subjects the opening fanfares of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (or ‘Vespers’) to a series of variants, for example in Indonesian gamelan style, Japanese koto music and in imitating the Chinese ‘erhu’ a two-stringed fiddle. All these are linked by the re-imagined Monteverdi, and all are very entertaining.

But the CD starts with the Violin Sonata No 1- a four movement work, though with the last two connected. In many ways it’s the most challenging composition in this collection and the longest. It is highly original in concept and revolves around conversations, wit and dramatic contrasts. Movement 1 is marked ‘Gently’ the violin weaving a mysterious melody between the piano chords, the second, a scherzo marked ‘hesitant’, concerns a fly that will not be swatted, causing increasing irritation. In the third (‘slow, thoughtful’) a rather stark landscape is painted but this leads into an irritable finale (marked leggiero) in which the participants, to quote the composer, “descend to hurling abuse” before the excitable final bars. The language is largely atonal but elements of melodic lines and shared identity are always present.

It would be wrong to consider the Sette Inventizione for solo violin as a didactic work although the composer does describe these seven pieces as ‘Studies’. Again, there is much variety and the writing is totally idiomatic even when the composer asks for some very challenging and unusual effects. Especially intriguing is the triple stopped pizzicato passage in the fifth section and the use of stratospherically high harmonics in the sixth. The brief movements are inspired by a series of short poems by Kathleen Raine, a favourite poet of the composer, one who he has also set for choir. Although the back of the CD simply gives Italian terms such as ‘Appassionato’ and ‘Sostenuto’ for the individual pieces, the brief notes tell us that, for example, No 1 evokes the natural sounds of Waves, No 2 the shimmer of light on the sea, No 6 a moonlit landscape and so forth. At no point was my attention allowed to waver and the performance is outstanding in its grasp of the technical and musical needs of the music. It seems also that this works “chimes in” with the a painting on the CD cover by the late Peter Barton, a friend of the composer.

The Sonata for Oboe or Violin does, by the way, include the piano and is played here on the violin; it exemplifies all the things I like and admire about Collins’s music. It is self-confident, he is clearly a composer who knows his language and works within it. There are key centres but no enforced tonality. There is a well-defined structure with the first movement acting as a somewhat stutterey chaconne and a follow-up movement of great wit and energy, and that’s it, the work does not go on, outstaying its welcome, it just finishes and it leaves you wanting more.

As to the question of form, every composer has to find a way of making his/her unfamiliar sounds work as a structure. So in Collins’s 2nd Violin Sonata we have a ‘Prelude’ of basically two deliberately contrasted ideas, one for the piano and one for the violin which acts as a brief opening gambit leading to an ‘Air & Movement’ which is palindromic, but not mechanically so, and again the whole work is over in eleven minutes, it says what it wants and then stops.

The performances, as I have vaguely alluded to, are of the highest quality. The Duo Ardoré have clearly enjoyed the music and the clarity of the recording aids their presentation. This is, thus, a fascinating selection of music by a composer with a very personal approach and voice who deserves to be well known and performed both nationally and internationally.

Gary Higginson



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