Online Concert: Francesca Dego & Alessio Bax @ Wigmore Hall – Mozart & Brahms

Francesca Dego (violin, above), Alessio Bax (piano, below)

Mozart Sonata for piano and violin in B flat major K454 Den første sommerfugl (1784)
Brahms Violin Sonata no.1 in G major Op.78 (1878-9)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 20 March 1pm

by Ben Hogwood

This was the first time violinist Francesca Dego and pianist Alessio Bax had performed together in public – but had that fact not been given to us by BBC Radio 3 announcer Andrew McGregor, the unsuspecting audience would have assumed they had been playing together for years. Both demonstrated an innate understanding of the music in this attractive programme, which had equal portions of light and shade.

Much of the light was found in the Mozart, his K454 violin sonata written during a phase where he was especially preoccupied with the key of B flat major. Around the violin sonata, regarded as one of the three crowning masterpieces in the form, sit the string quartet nicknamed the Hunt (K458) and the Piano Concerto no.18 (K456), the B flat neighbours evidence of a period where Mozart seems to have been especially fertile.

His stimulus on this occasion was the Italian violinist Regina Strinasacchi, a figure with whom the Italian Dego – a Mozart specialist herself – possibly felt an affinity. In detailing her affection for the work in the concert notes, Dego noted how Strinasacchi had studied at the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi once taught, before meeting Mozart in Vienna.

The piece made a winsome impression here, Dego showing how, in Mozart performance, less can so often be more. The pair enjoyed a poised introduction, Dego lingering on the last note before a sparkling Allegro moderato opened up ahead. There was definitely an air of spring to this movement, with burbling piano figures and bright violin melodies ideally balanced by the two.

The slow movement took time for thought, enjoying the space afforded to an operatic violin line, though never lingered unnecessarily. Dego’s tone was especially enjoyable here. The finale was very nicely done, with breezy humour and opportunity for virtuoso display for both instruments, tastefully taken.

Alessio Bax Pianist Photo: Marco Borggreve

As with several of his first forays into a new musical form, Brahms took several attempts before he was happy to publish his Violin Sonata no.1, which was completed just after the Violin Concerto. It is an attractive work with memorable themes, but a shadow fell over its composition due to the fate of Felix, the son of Clara Schumann and Brahms’s godson, who contracted tuberculosis, from which he died.

Dego and Bax brought this melancholy to the slow movement, the music turning hollow at the extremes of the piano register, Bax’s shaping of the low phrases especially expressive. The soft coda was bittersweet, a mood which carried over into the slow movement. Whereas the first movement had plenty of room given to its attractive melody, the finale pushed forward, Brahms looking to blossom into an exultant major but ultimately remaining troubled by the frequent reappearance of the minor key. There was however a good deal of energy and ultimately the sonata ended positively, the light and shade of this performance having given it a deeper perspective.

Dego introduced a bold encore choice, the second movement Tarantella of Busoni’s Violin Sonata no.2 – a work that should be heard in the concert hall far more often. On this evidence, a recording would be most welcome, given the musicality the two performers brought to this fine recital.

For more livestreamed concerts from the Wigmore Hall, click here

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