The Three Sonatas for violin and piano
Sonata in B (Op. posth.)
Interludes (Fennimore and Gerda)
Louise Jones (violin) & Malcolm Miller (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: January 2002
CD No: Meridian CDE 84298/9-2 (2 CDs)
2002, the 140th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Delius, will no doubt see its fair share of new recordings and reissues. Interestingly, there’s still only one integral recording of the works for violin and piano – as recorded in 1994 by Louise Jones and Malcolm Miller.
The medium was one to which Delius returned often. Few would guess the composer of the 1889 Romance, an attractively naïve piece here receiving its first recording, but the Sonata in B major of 1892 has a melodic breadth and harmonic richness that are unmistakably Delian. Grieg is evident in its thematic contours, and there’s a discreet employment of Franckian cyclical technique, but the effect is less of stylistic amorphousness than an ambitious amalgam of influences such as Delius would not attempt again. Such is the impression conveyed by Jones’s powerfully-sustained handling of the outer movements, their impassioned rhetoric contrasting with the touching directness she draws from the Andante: the performance clearly the result of movement-long takes. Searching too is the Légende of 1895, with its intuitive freedom of form.
Although he began work on it ten years later, Delius only completed his designated First sonata in 1914. Along with Eventyr and the Requiem, it finds his music at its most emotionally ambivalent. Even the formal layout is open to interpretation, though by treating the slow interlude (from 10’24″) as the coda to the restless opening movement, Jones convincingly outlines a two-part overall structure; the forceful second movement then pursues its tonally free-wheeling course to an affirmative ending, albeit precariously attained. This is a magnetic interpretation that places the work in the same aesthetic orbit as the sonatas of Debussy, Bloch and Bartók.
By contrast, the Second Violin Sonata of 1923 anticipates the formal poise and rhapsodic freedom of Fauré’s Second Sonata. Despite its portmanteau-like elision, the single movement follows a well-defined fast-slow-fast format, the underlying key of C major rarely in doubt. Jones maintains cohesion without underplaying the music’s variety of mood and pacing, achieving a rapt stillness in the central ’Lento’ (from 4’13″) and projecting the ’Molto vivace’ (from 9’25″) with élan.
One of the works the ailing Delius composed with the assistance of Eric Fenby, the Third Violin Sonata of 1930 has something of the formal clarity of Ravel’s sonata, though the latter’s blues- inflected poignancy is replaced with a more unaffected quality. Jones gets to the heart of the opening movement’s wistful charm, while the dance-like motion of the ’Andante scherzando’ draws to a close of heartfelt intimacy. The finale tempers resolve with autumnal resignation common to all the music of Delius’s ’Indian summer’.
The set is rounded off by transcriptions of three Delius miniatures. Jones and Miller have transcribed Fenby’s arrangement of Interludes from Fennimore and Gerda, sounding idiomatic in this new guise. Lionel Tertis’s arrangement of the Hassan ’Serenade’ has long been a favourite encore piece, while the Lullaby makes of its piano original something deeper and more tranquil.
Jones demonstrates the same subtlety and insight here as in the larger works, the tonal purity and flawless intonation of her performances the more remarkable when vibrato is (rightly) so sparingly applied. Miller’s pianism is – like his booklet note – thoughtful and attentive, recalling Fenby’s quiet dedication if not, inevitably, his authority. Recorded balance, believable but not ideal, is at its best in the three mature sonatas.
Overall, a convincing and pleasurable set from a violinist whose debut recital (Sain SCD 4058) features one of the most persuasive modern versions of Mozart’s E minor sonata, and whose ’Salut d’Amour’ (Sain SCDC 2089) is among the most varied and enjoyable encore discs of recent years. Louise Jones will be in the studio later this year – plans include a late-Romantic miscellany and contemporary repertoire. The results will no doubt evince the vibrant spontaneity and controlled passion that distinguish her Delius recordings.