Sonatina in G for Violin and Piano, Op.100
Sonata No.3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op.108
Suite populaire espagnole (arr. Kochánski)
Sonata in A for Violin and Piano
David Frühwirth (violin) & Milanna Chernyavska (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 5 July, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
For a composer with so extensive an output, Havergal Brian left almost no chamber music and the handful of pieces he did write (or seems to have written) survives through just the Legend for violin and piano. Written during 1919-21, this seven-minute piece is yet typical of the mature composer in its juxtaposition of bracing rhetoric and easy lyricism, as in its interplay of near Bartókian harmonies with a folk-like melodic simplicity. That it coheres as well as it does owes much to the composer’s formal astuteness, though it does help when the performance is as sympathetic as that by David Frühwirth and Milanna Chernyavska – who together ensured that this work conveyed more than its modest dimensions might suggest. With recordings of music by such figures as Egon Wellesz and Matyás Seiber, Frühwirth is clearly a violinist of wide and questing sympathies, and hopefully he will tackle Brian’s imposing Violin Concerto in due course.
The Brian seems to have been a late addition to Frühwirth’s recital – in view of the imminent revival of Gothic Symphony at BBC Proms – a timely addition to a programme such as demonstrated Frühwirth’s abilities but fitfully. Dvořák’s Sonatina (1893) which opened proceedings was at its best in the winsome Larghetto then the alternately incisive and wistful scherzo, yet the animated opening movement and surprisingly substantial (in context) finale were marred by suspect intonation as well as a lack of dynamic and expressive variety. Failings equally in evidence with the account of Brahms’s D minor Sonata (1888), though here Frühwirth had the measure of the smouldering passion of its opening movement and eruptive force of its finale, whereas the expressively over-emphatic Adagio and oddly mannered intermezzo were only redeemed by attentive pianism from Chernyavska, a resourceful musician.
Following the Brian, the second half proved more consistently satisfying. A pity one of the pieces that Pavel Kochánski arranged so idiomatically from Falla’s collection of Spanish popular songs was left out, but the five remaining items of Suite populaire espagnole (1915) made for a balanced and well-contrasted sequence – Frühwirth as probing in the wrenching emotion of ‘Polo’ as in the uninhibited verve of ‘Jota’. The selection was an admirable foil to Belgian-born César Franck’s Violin Sonata (1886) – hardly less influential than his Symphony on the future course of French instrumental music and a work to which Frühwirth was notably attuned. The first movement was given with affecting poise and the scherzo evinced no mean panache, while the improvisatory raptness of ‘Recitativo-Fantasia’ brought out the best interpretively from this partnership, then the deceptively equable finale cannily combined thematic loose ends on its way to a fervent conclusion.
This recital, while it did not always err on the side of consistency, at its best showed Frühwirth to be a vibrant and commanding musician. Whatever failings there may have been, no-one could have faulted his technical prowess in Fritz Kreisler’s Serenata espagnola which made a deft encore.