Stephanie Gonley & Martin Roscoe

Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano in G, Op.78
Four Lauds for solo violin
Sonata for Piano and Violin in A, Op.47 (Kreutzer)

Stephanie Gonley (violin) & Martin Roscoe (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 1 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A courageous programme indeed with two of the greatest violin sonatas framing Elliott Carter’s demanding Four Lauds, a test from which Stephanie Gonley emerged with flying colours. The leader of the English Chamber Orchestra since 1991, Gonley is hardly an unknown quantity in London’s musical life – just recently she was the LSO’s guest leader and gave a superb solo in the ‘Benedictus’ of the “Missa solemnis” under Sir Colin Davis – and if she is taken for granted, this concert provided a salutary jolt.

The G major sonata is Brahms at his richest and most gemütlich. Without any recourse to exaggerated speeds or gestures this duo got unerringly to each movement’s heart. Not the least of the pleasures was the give and take of real chamber-music-making, both players particularly well-balanced musically and temperamentally. In too many performances the violinist hogs the limelight. This one was a partnership of equals. Other pleasures included Gonley’s glorious violin tone which had the patina of fine walnut, balm to the ear, and her ability to sustain an unbroken singing line; Roscoe’s contribution was minimally pedalled and cleanly rhythmic. The work’s luminous close came over as a true musical benediction.

Elliott Carter’s Lauds (Praises) for solo violin are essentially homages to friends, respectively Aaron Copland, Goffredo Petrassi, Robert Mann (of the Juilliard Quartet, which championed Carter’s work) and Roger Sessions. The earliest dates from 1984, the three most recent from 1999 and 2000. ‘Remembering Aaron’ is a soaring recitative, ‘Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi’ is improvisatory and punctuated by angry outbursts, ‘Rhapsodic musings’ (Mann) is abrupt and abrasive whilst ‘Remembering Roger’ is for the most part a moto perpetuo. Much of the writing is pitched at the limits of the violin’s capabilities, and it is a mark of Gonley’s versatility how completely she encompassed its demands, tackling vehement pizzicatos and multiple double-stopping quite fearlessly.

Written for the violinist Bridgetower, son of a West Indian father and a Polish mother, and prefaced by Beethoven with the highly non-PC dedication “Sonata per uno mulattico lunattico”, Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ received an outstanding performance. This is music that demands more than just an accompanist – when Heifetz recorded it with Moiseiwitsch he felt that his thunder was being stolen (it is one of his best records!) – and Roscoe’s characterful and crisply stylish contribution was just the ticket. Although the first movement had plenty of power – the repeat was subtly varied – this duo also found time to relax in its second subject. In the central Variations Gonley had a fine sense what was essential and what was decoration, whilst the concluding Presto was played with an infectious lift and literally danced from first note to last. At its conclusion one felt far closer to Beethoven than after some other more forceful renderings by ‘celebrity’ violinists.

By way of an encore this wholly pleasurable evening was rounded off with more Brahms, the third movement from Sonata No.3, Op.108.

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