Jennifer Pike (violin, above), Martin Roscoe (piano, below)
Wigmore Hall, Monday 27 January 2020 (lunchtime)
You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here (opens in a new window)
Review and guide by Ben Hogwood
How refreshing to witness a world premiere brighten up an incredibly dull January day. Dualism, by British composer Dani Howard, is a new piece by violin and piano based on the conflict between ambition and relaxation that we experience on an increasing scale in our everyday lives. With the premise in hand it was easy to spot the ambitious bits – the piano’s energy propelling the music forward initially, the violin swept along – and the much-needed relaxation, where the music paused rather beautifully to take in its surroundings.
Because of these moments Dualism (2:39) was easy to relate to, and its tonal language, with wide open textures in the piano part, brought with it thoughts of the space achieved by the music of Copland and John Adams. Howard created some buoyant harmonies to go with the relatively angular melodic writing but the piece had depth too, an ongoing tension between the power for which it strove and the respite it also needed. The ultimate winner was difficult to call over the nine and a half minutes, Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe finding a balance between the elements and each other in an attractive performance.
Elgar’s Violin Sonata followed, an important work in his output as it effectively signals the beginning of his late, shadowy style. Here is where the composer’s work takes on an appreciably darker tinge, though each of the four main works in the period – the Sonata, String Quartet, Piano Quintet and Cello Concerto – each contain moments of light despite all being set in a minor key.
The Sonata is an elusive work, but Pike and Roscoe found its essence and its tunefulness. The first movement (2:39) was the strongest, and you can hear on the broadcast the strength of feeling immediately transmitted through the long sweeps of violin melody. The first theme is passionate, but soon the wisps of violin melody (16:28) indicate the dappled light of autumn.
The second movement (23:38) is a Romance, reaching levels of intensity that speak of sadness and bitter personal experience. It begins with a spirit of unrest, and the light humour forces a short-lived smile before Elgar retreats to the shadows once again. Pike and Roscoe apply a lightness of touch that really suits the dance-like figures that ultimately never get off the ground.
The final movement (31:08) is much broader in its dynamic reach and Pike relishes the return to the sweeping style of the first movement, her broad bow strokes bringing beauty to the melody. Meanwhile Roscoe successfully clarifies the busy piano part, again judging its volume ideally. A fine performance – bittersweet but ultimately resolving positively.
The pair finished with a rustic Theme and Variations from Miklos Rózsa, the composer of such epic film scores as Ben-Hur, Spellbound and A Double Life. Rózsa had a firm grounding in classical forms, writing a Violin Concerto for Jascha Heifetz in 1953 among numerous orchestral pieces. The Hungarian Peasant Song in this concert found him inspired by the folk music of his native country, and more specifically the Mátra region – where he wrote 14 variations on a rustic, outdoor theme. Pike had a lot of fun with these but found the emotional centre too, right from the unaccompanied theme itself (42:34).
The piece progressed through long, powerful lines, bold double stopping or short, twanged pizzicato (plucking). Roscoe’s counterpoint to this was a delight, knowing exactly when to hold back or push on, the pair navigating the very different moods of Rózsa’s variations before bringing them all back together at the end.
This concert contained the following music (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):
Dani Howard Dualism (2019, world premiere) (2:39)
Elgar Violin Sonata in E minor Op.82 (1918) (14:28)
Rózsa Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song Op.4 (1929) (42:34)
A well-chosen encore came in the form of Elgar’s Salut d’Amour (54:00), this orchestral favourite working beautifully in reduced form and given the appropriate level of indulgence by Pike.
Further listening & viewing
The Elgar and Rózsa music from this concert can be heard in the recorded versions below, including a classic account from early in Nigel Kennedy’s career, with pianist Peter Pettinger:
Martin Roscoe has recorded the Elgar with Tasmin Little previously, but that version is not available on Spotify. However Jennifer Pike has recorded the orchestral version of the Rózsa Variations, and they form part of a highly rewarding disc devoted to the composer’s orchestral works, including a substantial Cello Concerto:
Jennifer Pike’s most recent album The Polish Violin comes highly recommended, a homage to her Polish roots. Based mainly on the exotic works for violin and piano by Szymanowski, it is brilliantly played and really well programmed, with works by Karłowicz and Wieniawski also included:
Finally a playlist of those four late Elgar works – the Violin Sonata, String Quartet, Piano Quintet and Cello Concerto, in order of publication: