McNaught & Tong – 15 April

Sonata in A, Op.30/1
5 Melodies, Op.35bis
Sonata in G, Op.78

Fiona McNaught (violin) &
Daniel Tong (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 15 April, 2003
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This ’meaty’ and well-constructed programme showcased the talents of an impressive young duo – in this case ’duo’ is the operative word. For once one really had the sense that both players were so in tune and responsive to each other that they were able to play together with a rare sense of freedom.

It may seem unusual therefore to start with a special word of praise for the pianist. After all, is he not just an accompanist? Well in this case at least, emphatically not. What was rather remarkable – whether in the elliptical and elusive Debussy sonata, or the almost nightclub-like accompaniment to the fourth of Prokofiev’s Melodies, or the richly-voiced Brahms – was the way in which Daniel Tong succeeded unobtrusively and with the minimum of fuss in finding the individual tone of voice for each of these very different pieces. A natural-born stylist.

The recital opened a little stiffly with the Beethoven Sonata. However, by the ’Adagio molto espressivo’ the duo hit stride and Fiona McNaught’s violin sang sweetly: balm in a troubled world. In the concluding Variations maybe the playing lacked something in gaiety, perhaps just a little too sober for the music’s feel-good factor to emerge fully.

However from the first phrase of the Debussy Sonata we were immediately transported into a different world in terms of interpretative conviction, the duo clearly sharing a strong conception of this far from straightforward piece and playing with uncommon panache, fluidity and spontaneity; they achieved a smouldering volatile intensity entirely appropriate, the piece’s rapid swings of mood and tempo caught on the wing. Edge-of-seat stuff and totally convincing.

Prokofiev’s 5 Melodies, as lyrical as one would expect of music originally written as ’songs with words’, with each highly differentiated and surprisingly voluptuous – three being dedicated to Paul Kochánski, Szymanowski’s favoured interpreter and sounding like it. McNaught is at her best in lyrical music, warm and unfailingly musical but also catching the sometimes-bitter tang just below the notes. Occasionally the very beginnings and ends of phrases needed a little more care and finesse.

Finally to crown the programme a warm and loving performance of the Brahms. Tong’s accompaniment was particularly remarkable here: full-toned, rich, fluid but never heavy or hectoring, an object lesson in how to find the right tone of voice in this music. Together with McNaught’s rich and varied tonal palette and innate musicality, this made for rewarding listening. The slow movement in particular had an undertow and depth which reminded one that the B flat piano concerto lies only five opuses away.

Sadly there were too few people to hear this impressive young duo, the majority of them under 35 (and probably fellow students at Guildhall). Let’s hope McNaught and Tong go far – on the evidence of this recital they certainly deserve to.

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