Violin music by Fauré (Andante in B flat, Op 75), Schumann (Violin Sonata in A minor, Op 105) and Szymanowksi (Violin Sonata in D minor, Op 9)
Olya Curtis (violin) and David Vine (piano)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 8 June, 12.15pm
Olya Curtis and David Vine make a good contribution to the chamber music scene in Wellington. For the past couple of years they have given us good performances of a field of music that, even more than solo piano recitals, is a neglected field.
You may have noticed the virtual invisibility of Fauré’s unfinished violin concerto (of which I’ve traced a couple of recordings in the Gramophone archive, first movement only, from 1979 and 2001, the latter by Philippe Graffin and the Ulster Orchestra). This being so, there is little point perhaps in dwelling on the fact that this piece published 20 years later, in 1898, was based on the slow movement of that concerto; neither is familiar. This piece is melodically slender, though agreeable and by no means trite. Given that it was thus something of a promotional exercise, it was a pity that the violin part was not quite as polished in intonation, or perhaps as refined in spirit as Fauré’s music invariably is.
Schumann’s first violin sonata is moderately well known and this was a rather splendid performance, that drove away any feeling that one might have contemplating the works of his last few years: that the level of inspiration had declined. For this is a fine work and it was played with much more confidence and assurance; the first movement displays in clear idiomatic terms the composer’s often denigrated talent for writing for strings; there were no important lapses in accuracy.
The second movement, Allegretto, was perfectly paced, the speed sufficient to maintain attention while affording the appropriate calm of a second movement, with nicely judged tempo changes. The last movement, Animato, was rather more than that: it was quite energetic, and blessed with a charming melody.
Szymanowski wrote his violin sonata aged about 22, when he was still under the influence of late romantics like Strauss and Scriabin. It leaves no doubt that the composer would become a distinctive voice, though not necessarily of music in a Polish idiom. If some of her intonation was iffy again, it was a very reasonable trade-off for an effort to exploit the drama and the extrovert character of the music. And anyway, some of the wayward approaches to the notes could well have been a deliberate attempt to demonstrate a freedom that one senses to be an essential aspect of this composer’s music. There was occasionally room to speculate on the balance between perfection and vitality. The sustained lasts note of the first movement drew attention through the violin’s varied articulation.
Szymanowski was a pianist rather than a violinist, yet the music presents as much challenge to the violinist as for pianist David Vine; the music led both down paths that demonstrated Szymanowski’s early command of the idioms, especially German, of the turn of the century, moving to increasing complexity and technical difficulty. Though perfection slightly eluded the violinist in the second movement, the two established a beautiful rapport through its peaceful, lyrical episodes. And in the Finale, through the excellent partnership between the two players, the level of energy and virtuosity brought this interesting piece to a highly satisfying conclusion.