Friday, 21 September 2012

Delius and Grieg Cello Sonatas in performances of depth and expressiveness from Raphael Wallfisch and John York

Delius first met Grieg in 1887. In 1886 he had started studying at the Leipzig Conservatorium where he had got to know a group of Norwegian students. It was with some of these students that he undertook a walking holiday of Norway in the summer of 1887.

Whilst there, his Norwegian friends introduced him to Christian Sinding and Edvard Grieg. Grieg gave a party, inviting Delius, Sinding and the composer and violinist, Johan Halvorsen. Thus began a friendship between the two composers.

How apt then that a new release from Nimbus Records www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html features the Cello Sonatas by both Delius and Grieg as well as some shorter works by both. 

NI 5884
 
Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and John York (piano) have made a number of recordings for Nimbus featuring such diverse composers as Zemlinsky, Korngold, Goldmark, Beethoven and Chopin. I also have an earlier recording on Marco Polo of this duo playing the Rubbra, Moeran and Ireland cello sonatas, a disc that is one of the gems of that catalogue. http://www.naxos.com/labels/marco_polo.htm

Delius’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (1916), dedicated to the cellist Beatrice Harrison, is fairly short at just under 14 minutes. In this performance Raphael Wallfisch and John York capture perfectly the fleeting ebb and flow of Delius’ creation.  What a wonderful partnership Wallfisch and York make, instinctively weaving the sound around each other.

The wistful flow of the Lento molto tranquillo is beautifully played by Wallfisch with John York wonderfully fluent. There is hardly a break in the flow of melody making this a demanding work for the cellist.

There are four other works by Delius either side of the Sonata. Romance (1896) is a relatively early work and, in this performance, it is delightful with hints of the mature Delius to come. Raphael Wallfisch produces a really passionate and anguished tone in the climaxes. Chanson d’Automne (1911) has been transcribed by John York for Cello and Piano from one of Delius’ songs. This brief piece results in something of a gem and is exquisitely played.

Caprice (1930) is an austere piece with little of Delius’ warmth and sumptuousness whilst Elegy (1930) seems to be a version of Delius’ Caprice and Elegy for Cello and Chamber Orchestra written in 1930 for Beatrice Harrison who had visited Delius at home in Grez-sur-Loing in rural France and wanted a work for her forthcoming tour of America.

Grieg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in A minor Op.36 (1883) is dedicated to his cellist brother John Grieg and was first performed on 27th October 1883 in Leipzig by Julius Klengel with the composer at the piano.

The sonata explores all the depth and expressiveness that the cello can offer and in this recording there is some terrific playing from both Wallfisch and York, particularly as the first movement heads to a brief cadenza.  The first movement ends with what is almost a direct quote from the first movement of the A minor Piano Concerto. The second movement brings some really expressive playing with another recognisable melody, this time from Grieg’s incidental music to Bjornsterne Bjornson’s historical drama Sigurd Jorsalfar.

Solveig’s Song from Grieg’s incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is alluded to in the finale which has some intensely passionate playing from the duo. Their playing is wonderfully nuanced and this movement never outstays its welcome, as it does some times in other performances, having a natural flow and inevitability.

Two short pieces by Grieg precede his Cello Sonata, Intermezzo (1866), a strange, dark work that concentrates much on the lower register of the cello and Allegretto in E (1887) a particularly attractive work, taken from the slow movement of his Violin Sonata and written for his brother John. Both receive first rate, sensitive performances.

The recording is excellent and there are excellent notes by John York. This is a lovely disc.

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