Nicola LeFanu: Abstracts and a Frame; Maconchy: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Giles Swayne: Duo; Echo; Farewell
Malu Lin (violin), Giles Swayne (piano)
Resonus RES 10271 74:24 mins
This intriguing programme is all in the family: Elizabeth Maconchy was Nicola LeFanu’s mother and Giles Swayne’s cousin. Swayne is at the piano; the violinist, Malu Lin, is his wife. It’s an attractive way to begin exploring some under-performed British music for violin and piano extending across 90 years.
These composers have little in common stylistically, but each offers a fertile vein of unfailing sonic imagination. Swayne’s Duo(1975), inspired by the diminishing loops in the curves of the Loch Ness Monster (yes, really), is a substantial, demanding work rich in contrast and originality. LeFanu’s Abstracts and a Frame (1971) is a set of miniatures, in concept pictures at an exhibition, but closer to Webern or Kurtág than Musorgsky: precise and concise etchings of ideas that never go quite where you expect them to. Maconchy’s sonatas are overdue for rehabilitation, their world both harking back to Vaughan Williams and looking forward towards edgy modernism. No. 2, written during World War Two, opens in an atmosphere of extreme darkness and unfolds in four vivid, emotionally ambiguous movements; No. 1, from 1927, includes a fine slow movement, with long, keening melodic lines, and concludes with a Toccata that glances over its shoulder at pastoralism.
The immediacy and sympathy between the performers and the music does shine through; a few little moments fall prey to the complexity of the task at hand, but the whole, concluding with Swayne’s eerie Farewell (2017), makes a meaty and rewarding listen.