‘Chamber Recording of the Year 2020’

Violinist Jennifer Pike and pianist Martin Roscoe previously recorded a recital of French violin sonatas; this disc of music by two English masters is even finer. Both sonatas come from late in their composers’ careers.

The notes suggest Elgar’s work is a lament for the passing of the Edwardian era. If so, there is nothing maudlin about it. Both the opening Allegro and the third (final) movement have an urgency to them, a Brahmsian intensity even in the lyrical moments, which is searingly captured in this performance. The second movement, a Romance, is both intimate and quirky with its halting progress and throwaway motifs; at times it reminds me of the ‘character’ music in Elgar’s late tone poem Falstaff. Pike and Roscoe could possibly point this quirkiness a little more, but they are superb elsewhere.

Vaughan Williams’ Violin Sonata is rarely heard, but it is another compelling piece. In three movements, the sonata’s finale consists of a theme and variations. Again, any vision of the composer as a bluff, staid Englishman is contradicted by the vigour and imaginative sonorities of his music. Roscoe relishes the mysterious exoticism of the opening Fantasia, and both musicians throw themselves into the second movement’s Allegro Furioso with beautifully controlled abandon.

The Lark Ascending is extremely popular in its orchestral guise, but the violin and piano version came first (in 1918). The middle section, with the violin trilling on high while the piano plays a birdcall motif underneath, actually registers more clearly than in the orchestrated version. Pike’s lark is not overly ethereal, but she soars with confident ardour.

A benchmark recording of the two sonatas is that from 1978 by Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin. Yehudi had a strong affinity for this music and is highly expressive, but his intonation is neither as secure nor his tone as pure as Pike’s, while Roscoe is the more imaginative pianist. This new recording is a must if you don’t know these great pieces.


Limelight Magazine