A pickup-band of five extraordinary musicians gave the audience at Walter Hall a night to remember.
Canadian violinist Martin Beaver of the lately ended Tokyo Quartet and French cellist Marc Coppey rendered Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922) to perfection. Both experienced chamber players were rock-solid in understanding this harmonically and rhythmically complex piece, and both played with sensitivity.
Violin and cello have each their own way of conversing – whether speaking over the other or trading thematic material. The alternating major minor arpeggios that open the Allegro were played with angelic sweetness, as were the later cello harmonics. Beaver and Coppey surprised me with the driving ferocity of their pizzicato in the second movement and the immaculate staccato of the fourth. Coppey begins the Lent third with a mouth-droppingly soulful theme that got picked up by Beaver’s violin and together they developed the strident cry that evolves towards an ending of peace and reconciliation.
César Franck’s Sonata in A major, with the violin of TSO’s outstanding concertmaster Jonathan Crow, and Ian Brown at the piano contrasted beautifully with the Ravel sonata. Written in 1886, well before the trauma of the first world war, Frank’s Sonata luxuriates in the romanticism, the sense of well-being and order that typified the Parisian Belle Époque, an order irretrievably broken by 1922 and Ravel’s sonata. Crow and Brown played the gentle reflective theme of the first movement soulfully with sweetness and a tenderness that carried one back to a sunny summer afternoon when life was simple. The second movement introduces a Brahmsian turbulence that breaks away to a sweetness like the first. The third movement uses the initial theme in improvisatory style. Crow and Brown play the popular fourth movement with élan and full belle Époque sensitivity.
Reynaldo Hahn’s Piano Quintet in F-sharp Major brings Crow and Beaver together as first and second violin, with Brown at the piano and Steven Dann on viola for this little- known lost gem. Hahn was an exact contemporary of Ravel’s – born only one year earlier. He was well-known in the pre-war period as a writer of popular love songs. Although published in the same year 1922 as Ravel’s sonata, Hahn’s quintet reflects none of the torment of music of that time, but remains fully in the romantic tradition. The first movement alternates an ardent, heart-wrenching theme in F-sharp minor and a sunny “all is good on the ranch” second theme in A major – perhaps indicating Hahn had imbibed some American idiom. The second movement is reminiscent of the Franck in sensibility. I enjoyed the soulful cello solo passage by Coppey accompanied by Brown’s piano. The second violin, viola, and eventually Crow’s violin entered with a sweet, iridescent F-sharp major theme that forms the bulk of the movement. The third movement is based around what appears, in form at least, to be a folk melody that our fab five musicians closed this excellent evening with on a note of rollicking good-humor.