Tamsin Waley-Cohen: Bohemia
The heart gives a little leap at the prospect of Dvořák chamber music, especially when it comes from a duo as engaging and intelligent as Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins. That intelligence is very much at work in this recital, which begins with the intimacies and moodswings of Dvořák’s F major Sonata, before progressing through his Romantic Pieces to the more expressionist language of the matching set by his son-in-law Josef Suk and then on to Janáček’s Sonata, whose quicksilver volatility and conciseness feels, by this point, like part of a continuous tradition.
Waley-Cohen and Watkins articulate that overall narrative beautifully – which is not to say that, as individual interpretations, these are anything other than coherent, lyrical and often extremely lovely. Waley-Cohen’s tone is bright enough to carry any climax (listen to the flashing brilliance of Suk’s ‘Burleska’ or the way she tears into the second of Dvořák’s Romantic Pieces), but its rarest beauties are down on the lower strings: burnished and dusky, with a catch in the throat that makes for some especially affecting quiet moments. Waley-Cohen and Watkins are on the same page: their expressive to-and-fro at the start of the Dvořák Sonata establishes both a real sense of space and the unaffected but always appropriate sense of character that animates all four performances.
Above all, it feels as though these performers have got the scale of this music just right: nothing forced, no obvious straining for effect, just fresh, thoughtful and committed interpretations shot through with poetry and alertness. This is real chamber music. It mightn’t blow you off your feet at first hearing but it’ll give you more and more as you return to it: which I’m sure you will.