FringeReview UK 2019
Violinist Catherine Morgan and pianist Charlotte Brennand played Schubert Violin Sonatina No 1 in D D384, and Elgar Violin Sonata in E minor Op 82, with Chanson de Matin Op 12 as encore – at Brighton’s Chapel Royal.
The Chapel Royal proves ideal territory for these performers whom I’ve not encountered before.
Violinist Catherine Morgan and pianist Charlotte Brennand played Schubert Violin Sonatina No 1 in D D384, and Elgar Violin Sonata Op 82, with his Chanson de Matin Op 12 as encore . Originally Franck’s Sonata was to have been pared but that was unrealistic perhaps for a 45 minute programme. What we got was absorbing enough, and a contrast.
Schubert’s Sonatinas suffer from bad marketing to this day. They’re really Sonatas, and there’s that large-scale Duo too. Why just not re-brand? Long played by violinists learning past grade 7, they’ve thankfully crept into the repertoire recently and this is possibly the third time I’ve heard this piece here in two years.
Brennand has the measure of Schubert’s piano-writing and she’s prone to finely-honed accompaniment, striding out of that when required. From my angle, the focus was the violin.
Morgan’s a player of silvery even wiry tones, where every strand in the chromatic and harmonic elements gets heard – it’s exciting and individual: a bit like stands in Japanese single malts, as opposed to the palate of the Scottish originals. In other words you hear Morgan’s carefully differentiated twists and singing lines that seem exposed yet never deliver anything out of the zone.
The opening Allegro molto’s the most interesting, tenebrous and minor-keyed, not at all the D major sunniness you expect: quite exploratory in fact and Morgan was riveting in this. The next two movements progressively lighten, the Andante a kind of Schubert Impromptu as the slow movement flowing cantabile, then the somewhat more exuberant finale Allegro vivace, used in Austrian children’s TV. These movements are tuneful though you wish Schubert hadn’t been cozened by his publisher Diabelli (yes that one) who issued these works as Sonatinas – not to frighten amateurs. People were beginning to think more large-scale with Beethoven, but plenty of others issued smaller-scale works like these.
The Elgar Violin Sonata in E minor Op 82 is the first of the autumn 1918 chamber works Elgar completed, for his friend W.H. Reed.
Morgan’s line was notably clean, detailed. Wiry and courting the line’s fragility it got to the heart of Elgar’s autumnal lyricism, that mixture of wistfulness and throbbing passion alternating frantically throughout this work. Brennand was notably clean, sharply attuned and capable of rising to Elgarian expressiveness – rarely as here in a piano.
The first movement with its abrupt opening was taken at a good clip, but not frantically so, and Morgan allowed it to breathe more tan I some performances. Morgan can inject lyricism into the most attenuated parts of the E string, which particularly helps the outer movements with their quixotic switchbacks and sudden heart-stopping pauses and highwire wistfulness, almost unique to Elgar though Debussy’s valedictory Violin Sonata of a year earlier catches something of the same attenuated farewell.
Brennand’s way with counterpointed melody on the piano here is acutely responsive to the sonance and tonal push of Morgan’s violin.
The slow movement notably expanded, but again the delicacy here from both players is crystalline. There’s a windflower element, particularly brought out by Morgan. The delightful wrong-footing interplay, a kind of reminiscent interlude of long ago, seems almost childlike in its hide-and-seek refrain quality. Interplay was pin-drop acute before it moved into the more passionate middle section, like a leave-taking from a love-affair – we now know Elgar had one in 1906-07. Elgar’s command of the violin came not only from his innate knowledge but his marriage of French late romanticism with certain German fingerprints. There’s a breath-taking tailing-off too.
The finale can be played out and Morgan happily didn’t hold back on the rapid changes and overwhelming valedictory power of this movement. Yet she managed never to blast it into this acoustic – a few violinists have. And Morgan registered the hesitations and sudden rubati, not to mention downright eddies, Elgar demands.
The scurrying elements are never scrappy, the perorations rising in a kind of spiral as we return to the opening soaring theme of the finale and keep slowing, expanding and then the DNA winds it up again. The movement almost stops for a few moments, and the duo here know how to make the most ravishing space around it. It’s not easy maintaining the pulse here either. The challenge of the coda, louder but not to loud is naturally brought off.
The pair finished off ideally, with Elgar’s Chanson de Matin Op 12, of 1889. That’s nearly 30 years earlier yet Elgar’s sure melodic gift is freshly in place. Again Morgan and Brennand take their time to unwind it like Elgar’s small salute to a bright new marriage and (as he hoped) century.
A lovely debut. It’s hoped they’ll return for that Franck, and perhaps the Debussy.