Remarkable Lark: Jennifer Pike soars in Vaughan Williams
Here are two great British violin sonatas – Elgar’s well-established masterpiece and the still much underestimated Vaughan Williams – both superbly played. In the Elgar, Jennifer Pike is fully engaged with the rhetoric of its opening theme, not immediately squeezing all its emotional juice but saving her most impassioned tone for the peak of its phrase. Her brilliant partner, Martin Roscoe, is equally at the service of the music – the character of the work their sole concern.
Vaughan Williams’s Sonata, a late composition (completed 1954), can sound rather rambling. Here, Pike and Roscoe’s detailed characterisation of its themes ensures it coheres into a substantial and very personal drama. Even its very opening is vitalised by Roscoe’s idiomatic articulation of its rhythmic profile; and Pike, launching into this work with sturdy tone, shows a remarkable range of colour, whether in her impassioned yet true sounding double stopping, or using grit and cutting tone one moment before switching to a beguiling, tender lyricism. Far from dreamy pastoral, this sonata enlarges on the darker recesses of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony and in the acidulous scherzo, Job. The finale’s theme and variations have an almost Chaconne-like grandeur.
Pike can do veiled and dream-like all right – witness in the Elgar’ first movement her undulating tranquill0 quavers – but refreshingly avoids that cliché in the ever-popular The Lark Ascending, presenting a proud yet quite unselfconscious songster. With Roscoe creating a sense of rapt stillness with its opening chords, the effect is unusual and touching.