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Entente Musicale
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Violin Sonata in B major, Op posth. (1892-93) [25:38]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Cherry Ripe 'for Fritz Kreisler' (1911) [3:17]
Valse Caprice, Op 74 No 7 - arr. A.W. Kramer (1911) [4:18]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G minor (1916-17) [13:26]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de habañera - arr. Jascha Heifetz (1907) [3:03]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor (1909) [27:40]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Mediterranean - arr. Jascha Heifetz (1920) [3:10]
Clare Howick (violin), Simon Callaghan (piano)
rec. Wathen Hall, St. Paul's School, London 24-25 October 2019

This isn’t the first time Clare Howick and Simon Callaghan have got together to record an enticing programme of violin sonatas. Last year I reviewed their CD of British Violin Sonatas, including some less well-known pieces, which made a very favourable impression. I ended my review remarking that the works were “expertly performed with unalloyed musicality and commitment”. Their newly released follow-up titled Entente Musicale celebrates Anglo-French music from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

We open with Delius’ Violin Sonata, Op posth. It was the unusual key of B major that seems to have put the publisher, to whom it was offered, off. Delius therefore put it in a drawer and it remained forgotten until it was finally published in 1977, more that forty years after the composer’s death. It’s a glorious work, which I first encountered on a recording by Tasmin Little and Piers Lane several years ago. There’s a great sense of abandon and impassioned exuberance in the outer movements, with the central Andante restrained and touchingly sincere. Having heard this sonata many times over the years, the more detailed scrutiny I applied in a reviewing capacity revealed, for the first time, some Grieg influences in the shape of the melodic lines, something I’d never noticed before. I prefer Howick’s approach to that of Tasmin Little, especially in the first movement. She doesn’t drive the music as much, but takes a more spacious view, allowing it to unfold and breathe more naturally.

Although John Ireland’s Violin Sonata No 1 in D minor was eclipsed by the Second Sonata, it’s a truly marvellous work. It won the Cobbett Prize, out of 134 entries, for chamber music in 1909, and the composer subsequently dedicated it to Walter Wilson Cobbett, himself an amateur violinist. It underwent two revisions in 1917 and 1944. Cast in three movements, the opener is generously melodic, yet with hauntingly portentous undercurrents at times. Howick and Callaghan bring ardent expression to the wistful and tender central Romance. They also capture the playful rhythmic buoyancy of the Rondo finale. It’s a captivating score, certainly deserving of more airtime.

In contrast to the Delius and Ireland Sonatas, Debussy’s sounds more pared down texture-wise. It was the composer’s last major work, set against the backdrop of the Great War, and written when he was suffering from the cancer that was to end his life soon after. Its three movements reveal constantly shifting moods and varying palettes of light and shade. The performance here brings out all of these striking contrasts and subtlties in addition to the alternating rhythmic patterns. I love the passion, optimism and positivity the performers bring to the finale, building the music up to an ecstatic conclusion.

Scattered throughout are a selection of short pieces. Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera will be the best known and is here heard in an arrangement by Jascha Heifetz. Howick evokes the sultry balm with her exotic portamentos and subtle rubato. Heifetz also arranged Bax’s Mediterranean. With vibrant G string passages, well-intoned double stops, crisp pizzicatos and searing glissandos, all the technical challenges are met with consummate ease. Cyril Scott’s Cherry Ripe is a delightful folk song arrangement, dedicated to Fritz Kreisler and played with intimacy and warmth. His suave and lilting Valse Caprice is a first recording in an arrangement by A.W. Kramer.

I have nothing but praise for Howick and Callaghan, who perform these works with authority, integrity and formidable musicianship. They’ve been well-served by the Somm recording engineers, who’ve manage to achieve the perfect balance between the two instrumentalists. This is augmented by the excellent accompanying liner contribution by Robert Matthew-Waker. This is a recording I’ll be returning to many times, especially for the Delius and Ireland works.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Nick Barnard

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