ELGAR; WALTON Violin Sonatas
It is good to find so responsive a young violinist as Daniel Hope turning to British music. As with his earlier Nimbus issues of Schnittke, Shostakovich and others (5/99 and 4/00) he conveys his enthusiasm not just in his playing but in the informative notes that he himself provides. The coupling of the violin sonatas by Elgar and Walton is a most satisfying one, not unique on disc, and one which provides fascinating parallels.
The Finzi Elegy is a very apt makeweight, the only surviving movement from a projected Violin Sonata written in a hectic period for the composer at the beginning of the Second World War. No other recording is currently listed, making this freely lyrical piece in Finzi’s warmest pastoral vein specially welcome – doubly so in this, the composer’s centenary year.
The Elgar elicits a performance of high contrasts both in dynamic range – with Hope using daringly extreme pianissimos – and in flexibility of tempo. So in the first movement the opening at an urgent speed gives way to a very broad reading of the second subject, hushed and musingly introspective. Yet such freedom of expression goes with deep concentration, so that the structure is still firmly held together.
In the slow movement Hope, rather like Lydia Mordkovitch in her superb Chandos version, rejects the idea of this enigmatic movement and an interlude, bringing out gravity in his dark violin tone. In the finale, too, Hope conveys an improvisational quality, again using the widest dynamic range, finely matched by Simon Mulligan – like Hope, a Menuhin protege.
Lorraine McAslan with John Blakely on ASV Quicksilva gives a lighter reading, generally faster with less extreme contrasts, and so it is too in the Walton Sonata. Menuhin in both the Elgar and the Walton brings out the virtuoso side of the writing, big and bold if not so detailed as Hope. The two movements are both among the longest of any of Walton’s multi-movement works, and again, with big contrasts and concentrated expression, Hope and Mulligan hold the structure firmly together.
In the Variation second movement Mulligan, matching Hope, finds an improvisational quality in the dropping fourth motif which rounds off each of the contrasted variations. With slow music outweighing fast there is a danger that it will seem to end inconclusively, but Hope and Mulligan rise superbly to the challenge of the long eighth variation, like a deeply reflective barcarolle, leading into a dazzling coda, full of flair. With Hope’s sweet, finely focused violin tone beautifully caught in the Nimbus recording – full and warm but less reverberant than some – and well-balanced against the piano, it makes an outstanding recommendation.'