Tabea Zimmermann & Silke Avenhaus: Rebecca Clarke Sonata

Adagio and Allegro in A flat, Op.70
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op.105 [arr. for viola and piano]
Rebecca Clarke
Sonata in E minor for Viola and Piano

Tabea Zimmermann (viola) & Silke Avenhaus (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 23 October, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata must surely be one of the most accomplished works written for the instrument, and yet it continues not to receive the full exposure it deserves in the repertory.

Here it returned home – it was heard in the Wigmore Hall in 1919 – and from Tabea Zimmermann and Silke Avenhaus it was hard to think of a more persuasive performance. An edge-of-seat drama was there from the off, with the viola’s dramatic vocalise over a long sustained chord from the pianist. The harmonies and textures in this movement, and indeed the sonata as a whole, owe something to Franck and Debussy, but Clarke succeeds emphatically in imposing her own, obviously English style.

The feather-light scherzo was an exquisitely shaded dance, with Avenhaus’s virtuosic figuration neat and sensitive. By contrast the poignant melody, with which the third movement begins, marked Adagio, was expansively treated and built to an impressively weighty climax, the viola’s waspish tremolo gaining in power as the piano took centre stage.

A superbly executed ‘Agitato’ brought the piece to a finish and completed a memorable performance, both players commendably retaining their composure in the face of a flash-photograph and several loud, non-tempered coughs.

The drama of Clarke’s vivid viola writing was prefaced by two arrangements of Schumann, seemingly the composer’s own although this was not credited in the programme. The Adagio and Allegro is flexible enough to work for cello, horn and viola. Here, Zimmermann found a tender stillness early on, her unforced tone filling the Hall easily, and when the Allegro arrived, both players found a commanding stature, Avenhaus securing a pleasant rippling accompaniment to the second theme.

The Violin Sonata too worked well in its new guise, the dark introspection of its opening movement emphasised by the viola’s lower register. Avenhaus’s arpeggios were restless, while some of the choppier textures were negotiated easily by the duo. The jocular second movement was nicely done, the arrangement preserving a light scoring, but the ‘moto perpetuo’ of the finale plunged us back into uncertainty, with Zimmermann’s full tone overcoming the technical challenges of rapid figuration.

Both players threatened to cast off this foreboding air with a resolute theme in C major but to no avail, the music returning to the home key and speeding to its conclusion.

As an encore Zimmermann and Avenhaus gave the Andante of Bach’s Sonata in A for gamba (BWV1028), their vibrant performance of the Clarke still fresh in the mind.

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