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FringeReview UK 2019

Oliver Nelson and Vasilis Rakitzis Violin and Piano Recital

Oliver Nelson and Vasilis Rakitzis

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton


Low Down

Oliver Nelson and Vasilis Rakitzis play Mozart’s Violin Sonata in G major K301/293a of 1778 and Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major of 1886.



Oliver Nelson’s one of the go-to fixtures in the south east for some of the classiest, most potent violin-playing around. Teamed here with his regular pianist the equally-distinguished Vasilis Rakitzis, they play a classic contrast.


The refreshing choice is Mozart’s lesser-known Violin Sonata in G major K301/293a of March 1778 in Mannheim, one of the Palatine Sonatas dedicated to Electress Maria Elizabeth.


It’s in two movements: Allegro con Spirito, and then a whirling simplicity of Allegro. The first movement opens in open appealing territory, quite leisurely but soon introduced cross-rhythms and sudden thews and undercurrents, perky pianism which Rakitzis neatly points on th French Elysian piano here. Nelson enjoys contrasting sallies of restraint and brio.


These soloists are Romantic rather than classical performers on the whole, but they enjoy here the kind of classic restraint you’d see in Henrik Szeyring or Arthur Grumiaux paired with Clara Haskil. Not period-aware in every detail, though the period pointing’s there, but in a thoroughly idiomatic tailoring of the sound-world. The Allegro with its child-like opening and additive variations is an enchanting foray into a gallant world. It’s a world too from say the E minor K304, written by Mozart on his mother’s death weeks later.


Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major of 1886 was premiered by composer-violinist Eugene Ysaye in gathering darkness as the lights failed; but he had it by memory already. From the start in the Allegretto ben moderato, the heart-easing opening by Nelson intimates great things with its rocking rhythm.


The gradations of this movement and its sudden accelerandos moves straight through to the ferocious Allegro and it’s quite astonishing. I’ve never heard this work played with such risk-taking abandon, such passion – the kind of thing you fantasize when you play it in your head – and yet such utter security too. It ends so in so vivid a flourish you’d think it was the end – but it’s only half-way


The Ben moderato: Recitativo-Fantasia is one of those eddies sounding of free improvisation. This is where Nelson and Rakitzis evince a capacity to dream in sound, with terraced layering-back, holding a legato line and rippling it as the themes eddy in and out.


The final Allegretto poco mosso erupts in canonic imitation of the main melody and returns roaring in a rondo-like manner, soaring, triumphant, frankly sexual (another Augusta Holmes fantasy, then his pupil muse and possible lover as well as very fine composer). It’s quite irresistible, and Nelson reminds us how much those of us who’ve heard it might imagine it could go with his soaring line – and Rakitzis with extremely supple dynamics manages to emphasize and underpin without losing the partnership or over-shading nelson: he’s emphatic where necessary. It was after all written for two powerful soloists. Well it’s here at last. It’s where canonic writing proves itself effortlessly thrilling and Franck’s organ-infused language full of such things are fused with Romanticism so much that you don’t notice how the forms become more expressive than many free-forms born of romanticism do. A glorious recital.