Bax & Elgar Violin Sonatas
Like Edward Greenfield, I greatly enjoyed Maxim Vengerov’s recent, red-blooded Teldec account of the Elgar Violin Sonata, the young Russian virtuoso’s wonderfully golden tone and giddy technical accomplishment always matched by a satisfyingly searching range of expression. Now comes a scarcely less commanding and in some ways even more idiomatic rendering from the imperious alliance of Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe. Theirs is a grander, more leisurely conception than that of Vengerov and Chachamov, lending Elgar’s inspiration an unapologetically epic thrust that relates it all the more movingly to the mighty Piano Quintet and Cello Concerto that were to follow soon after. If Little doesn’t quite possess Vengerov’s breathtakingly subtle range of tone colour, she locates an extra tenderness and vulnerability in Elgar’s introspective passagework, just as she and Roscoe are more perceptive than their Russian rivals in the elusive half-lights of the central ‘Romance’. A deeply felt, intelligent account then, obviously the product of considerable thought and experience. In his January review EG understandably licked his lips at the prospect of hearing Vengerov in the Elgar Concerto, a sentiment I would wholly endorse and also now extend to Little.
The coupling is as unexpected as it is welcome. Completed in 1915, overhauled six years later and finally premiered in April 1922, Bax’s passionate and turbulent Second Violin Sonata exhibits a dusky, driven beauty and unashamedly autobiographical resonance that look forward to both November Woods (with which it shares a motto theme) and the first two symphonies. Initially conceived at a time of great personal upheaval for the composer, the work is cast in four interlinked movements, perhaps the most striking of which is the second, a haunted ballroom of a waltz enigmatically entitled ‘The Grey Dancer in the Twilight’. Certainly, Little and Roscoe give a thrillingly intense and eloquent rendering, though I must say that the rival Chandos account with Erich Gruenberg and John McCabe (harnessed to the First Violin Sonata) also has its own very special insights (Bax fans will not want to be without either version).
Truthful sound and balance, though the comparatively generous acoustic at times rather precludes the last ounce of intimacy. A most rewarding pairing overall.'