Monday, 14 July 2014

Colours of the Heart: Music by Debussy, Delius, Ravel & Grieg

First to sort out a possible confusion: there are more than one fiddle players with the name Midori. Midori Goto is a renowned Japanese-American violinist who has many CDs exploring a wide range of repertoire. Midori Seiler has released albums of music by Beethoven, Haydn and Vivaldi. And then there is Midori Komachi.
Komachi, according to the publicity notes for this present CD, was born in Japan, became a prodigy of the Basel Music University in Switzerland and latterly studied at the Royal Academy of Music. She has performed at ‘major’ venues world-wide. The present disc is her recording debut. The CD is supported by the Arts Council of England, The Delius Trust and the Nicolas Boas Charitable Trust.
Colours of the Heart has been inspired by one of Midori Komachi’s projects: Delius and Gauguin; a conversation. This was conceived as a programme of music ‘expressing the exchanges between composers and artists.’
Delius met Gauguin in Paris in 1894 and gathered around him a set of composers, writers and artists including Maurice Ravel, Edvard Munch, August Rodin, Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Grieg. The key to this ‘concept album’ is the painting of the naked Tahitian girl reclining on her sofa, Nevermore. Delius purchased this painting from Gauguin in 1898 and it remained a treasured possession until 1922 when he sold it to the Manchester ship merchant Herbert Coleman:  Courtauld then procured the picture in 1927.  However, I feel that the ‘concept’ is not a necessary prerequisite to enjoying the sonatas on this disc. All three are not among their composer’s ‘top’ works, but are important additions to the genre which are unfairly ignored.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G minor was originally planned as part of a series of six sonatas written between 1915 and 1917.  The first was for cello and piano, the second for flute, viola and harp and the last completed was for violin and piano. The latter three Sonatas were never completed.  Edward Lockspeiser quotes a letter from the composer suggesting that he only finished the Violin Sonata to ‘get rid of the thing, spurred on as I was by my dear publisher.’ This blasé attitude seems to contradict the attractive music presented. The work is in three movements. The first is a restrained sonata form that could ramble a little, however Komachi imposes order and creates something very beautiful from these pages. The middle movement is a ‘Harlequinesque Interlude’ that has a touch of melancholy but also a few shafts of light. It is a lovely creation.  The finale is brighter and nods to Spain in its sun-drenched exuberance. Although many commentators have downplayed the value of this work, I feel that it is a late flowering of the composer’s art and moves away from the impressionistic tone poems and piano works of his heyday towards something more abstract.

Fred. Delius wrote three numbered violin sonatas and one early work that was completed in 1892 and published posthumously. The third Sonata was part of the collaboration with the composer’s amanuensis Eric Fenby and was ‘dictated’ in 1930. The work was played to the composer at his home by May Harrison, who was subsequently made the dedicatee. Delius is reported to have claimed that this sonata seemed ‘…younger, fresher…than either of the other two sonatas…’ Robert Matthew Walker has suggested that this work has the character of ‘a long golden sunset’ in the composer’s catalogue. It is this late, autumnal character and the subtle balance of the typically restrained slow-fast-slow form of the work that Midori Komachi captures so well.  I am not sure I agree with her contention that this work ‘relates’ to Gauguin, yet the ‘darker, mysterious colours’ of both men’s later works do seems to evoke a similar emotional response.
Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major was composed over a number of years and finally completed in 1927. It was written for Hélène Jurdan-Morhange (1888-1961), who advised the composer on performance details. It was one of Ravel’s personal favourite works. The Sonata is in three movements with the middle one deeply influenced by jazz and blues. Is there a hint of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ from Porgy?  The opening movement is relaxed and exploratory with its idiomatic version of sonata form. The finale is a rapid ‘perpetuum mobile’ which is a tour de force for both players.
The composer promised the dedicatee of this Sonata that ‘It won’t be very difficult and it won’t sprain your wrist.’ Listening to Midori Komachi does not support this whimsy. Ravel has created a tough challenge with this work that explores a wide range of technical devices for both instruments.
The two Grieg pieces, ‘Ich Liebe Dich’ and ‘Solveig’s Song’ from Peer Gynt derive from two albums of his songs arranged for violin and piano by Emile Sauret. Both are well known in their vocal and pianoforte solo versions, but this would appear to be their first outing on CD in Sauret’s transcription.
As the thread behind this CD is Gauguin’s Nevermore, I would have thought it better to have displayed this painting on the front cover rather than the rather twee picture of the two performers making a backward glance over a park bench.  I feel that the timing of this CD at just shy of 57 minutes is a bit Spartan: would it not have been possible to have squeezed something else in here?  There are the two books of Sauret’s ‘Grieg Transcriptions,’ for example.  I understand that we live in age of instant access to information, but I would like to see the composers’ dates given somewhere in the track-listings or liner notes.  And finally, these notes are printed in a small font.  As far as I can see they are not available on-line (why do so many record companies not supply liner notes with their ‘downloads’?) so I had to make-do with a magnifying glass.
I enjoyed all the works on this CD. They are imaginatively and attractively played by Midori Komachi and finely supported by the pianist Simon Callaghan.  It makes a great introduction to three fine violin sonatas from the early twentieth century that for various reasons have not received the attention they deserve.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor (1917)
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Sonata for Violin & Piano No.3 (1930)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major (1923-27)
Edward GRIEG (1843-1907) (arr. Emile SAURET (1852-1920) Lieder for Violin and Piano: ‘Ich Liebe Dich’ & ‘Solveig’s Song
Midori Komachi (violin) Simon Callaghan (piano)
MusiKaleido MKCD001 

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