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Vaughan Williams: Complete Works for Violin and Piano

Midori Komachi (violin), Simon Callaghan (piano) (MusiKaleido)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Vaughan Williams
Violin Sonata; Six Studies in English Folksong; Romance and Pastorale; The Lark Ascending
Midori Komachi (violin), Simon Callaghan (piano)
MusiKaleido MKCD002   105:25 mins (2 discs)

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Aside from the ever-airborne The Lark Ascending, gorgeous violin solos are such a recurring feature in Vaughan Williams’s concert and dramatic works (such as ‘Elihu’s Dance of Youth And Beauty’ in Job) that one would expect to find one or two treasurable things on a smaller scale too. But apart from the original version of The Lark Ascending, recorded persuasively here by Midori Komachi and Simon Callaghan, the only really significant thing he composed for violin and piano is the late Sonata. It makes a striking contrast with the Lark, one dreamily rhapsodic, so much focused on the fragile momentary beauty, the other knotty, truculent, lyrical at times but ultimately enigmatic. Beside that we have a pair of miniatures composed in the years leading up to World War I, Romance and Pastorale, both very much living up to their titles, and the engaging but not exactly surprising Six Studies in English Folk Song.

Interesting as it is to hear a case for the duo version of the Lark, the central emphasis is surely on the Violin Sonata. Judging from the score, and from a handful of performances over the years, my intuition is that there’s a strong and interesting piece in here struggling to get out. The problem is that what it needs most is exactly the opposite of what Komachi and Callaghan bring successfully to the Lark: not concentration on the vanishing moment but a strong sense of line drawing disparate elements into a single statement, and that, I’m afraid, is what this performance doesn’t have.

The recording, too, feels comparatively recessed. The result, overall, is a menu with many lovely side dishes, but which fails to deliver when it comes to the main course. Disappointing.

Stephen Johnson

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