Though still only 30 years of age, violinist Jennifer Pike already has a solidly-built catalogue of recordings behind her, ranging from acclaimed discs of Polish and Czech works for violin and piano to the great concertos by Mendelssohn and Sibelius. She may have resisted the starrier, more headline-grabbing strategies of some of her colleagues, but, having started her career as something of a prodigy, her steady approach to developing a distinctive profile has reaped huge benefits in terms of the quality and depth of her music-making. A case in point is her latest release, accompanied by the ever dependable Martin Roscoe at the piano, in violin sonatas by Elgar and Vaughan Williams.
Pike understands [Elgar’s] inherent duality from the outset, and her playing has an urgency that doesn’t distract from the more reflective, poetic aspects of the work. Her playing combines vigour with immaculate intonation and exquisite cantabile tone, gentle gradations of pianissimo as well as ardent intensity. The emotional range is cast wide in the opening movement, and the tone deepens still further in the central Romance, where every throwaway gesture seems loaded with implied meaning, the intersection between a fondly remembered past and a bittersweet present.
The third and final movement appears to start out most idyllically of the three, yet the return, just before the coda, of the middle section from the Romance recalls another moment of intense sadness, added to the work after the unexpected death of the Sonata’s dedicatee, Marie Joshua, just days after she had written to Elgar expressing her honour in accepting the dedication. In his own comments, Elgar emphasised the work’s traditional credentials, yet at the hands of Pike and Roscoe it is a work of remarkable resilience and potency, and it receives from them one of the most persuasive performances on disc, certainly one to make one reevaluate its place within the composer’s oeuvre and within the violin repertoire in general.
Much rarer on record is the A minor Violin Sonata by Elgar’s successor as England’s leading composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Once again, Pike and Roscoe do the work proud in a performance that brings out the music’s strengths as well as its striking originality. Indeed, it emerges as an ideal coupling for the Elgar, complementary in many ways, but also with some striking parallels in a bittersweet longing for a vanished past.
The disc is rounded off with the original version, for violin and piano, of Vaughan Williams’s perennially popular romance The Lark Ascending, to which the end of the preceding Sonata seems to allude. Here Jennifer Pike’s tone is simply magical, conjuring up a kaleidoscope of imagery that more than makes up for the loss of orchestral colour: indeed, there are details that emerge with greater clarity in this version, while it seems expressively to provide the necessary balm for the emotional wounds of the two Sonatas. Composed some years before the Elgar Sonata, but premiered after it, The Lark here ties up the loose ends very nicely to a disc that no lover of English music will want to be without. It’s certainly one of Pike’s best yet – which is saying much.