MAXWELL DAVIES Sonata for Violin Alone. Sonata for Violin and Piano
Maxwell Davies’s output for strings is remembered chiefly for his 10 ‘Naxos’ String Quartets. However, the cycle represents only the tip of the iceberg, and a glimpse into the rich diversity belonging to his music in this medium can be gleaned from this recording.
The title of the opening work is significant: Sonata for Violin Alone (rather than the more prosaic ‘Sonata for Solo Violin’) was one of Maxwell Davies’s final works, and the composer may well have known it would be. Performed by the excellent Duccio Ceccanti (to whom it is dedicated), every gesture in this bleak work is carved out of loneliness, isolation and an almost deep-seated fear. Defiant outbursts rupture the work’s elegiac qualities during the middle section, perhaps acting as a rallying cry against the inexorable fading of the mortal light, but one is left at the end with stark, skeletal lines and hollowed-out emptiness.
A sprightly set of dances arranged by Maxwell Davies from his children’s opera The Two Fiddlers (1978) could not be further removed from the bleak tone of Sonata for Violin Alone. Ceccanti’s rather literal performance of these tunes would have benefited further from the kind of subtle give and take of line and tempo that characterises the Scottish folk fiddle tradition. He embraces this style more effectively in the folk-imbued solo violin cadenza that appears halfway through the piano trio A Voyage to Fair Isle (2002), although his performance is more than matched by Lucy Gould’s brilliant rendition (and Alice Neary’s equally impressive cello solo that follows) on the Gould Piano Trio recording (Champs Hill, 5/15). Like the later Violin Sonata (2008), the trio pits moments of lyrical reflection against dense dissonances and sharp lines. It’s a delicate balance that works better when shaped into a dialogue between violin and cello, with piano acting as an effective dramatic counterweight between the two.