Tasmin Little plays C Schumann, Beach and Smyth
For a neglected Romantic violin sonata, being recorded by Tasmin Little and John Lenehan must feel like going to heaven. Neither the 1897 sonata by Amy Beach nor its slightly earlier counterpart by Ethel Smyth is new to the catalogue, but neither, surely, has ever been treated to anything like Little’s gleaming, endlessly fluid tone or John Lenehan’s warmly characterised, unfailingly sensitive pianism.
The Beach comes first, and although Chandos have already served it well with an expansive account from Gabrielle Lester (1/04), there’s a flexibility and sense of sweep to Little and Lenehan’s performance that’s utterly persuasive on its own terms: meltingly tender as the pair ease into the first movement’s second group, and dark and questioning in the con dolore slow movement. The two players respond to each other as if by instinct, giving a playful glint to the outer sections of the Scherzo (Little wears her virtuosity with delicious insouciance) and emerging from the storms of the finale with terrific sweep.
That’s the most thrilling moment in Ethel Smyth’s Sonata too. As with the Beach, Little and Lenehan let the four movements follow their own, cumulative course from lyrical opening to tempestuous finale, without ignoring the many pleasures to be found along the way – like the little folksy interludes that punctuate the melancholy lilt of Smyth’s slow movement. Perhaps Clara Schumann’s Drei Romanzen could have felt a little more inward – these readings are nothing if not upfront – but it’s hard to object to this kind of assurance coupled to such a fabulous sound, and in Beach’s Op 23 Romance, the pair trace the journey from intimate confession to high-romantic ardour with poetry and utter conviction. A wonderful performance.