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Brighton Year-Round 2023

St Nicholas Oliver Nelson and Vasileios Rakitzis Violin Sonatas Recital

Oliver Nelson and Vasileios Rakitzis

Genre: Live Music

Venue: St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton


Low Down

Oliver Nelson and Vasileios Rakitzis  play Violin Sonatas by Alistair Jones, Franz Schubert and Malcolm Arnold.



Oliver Nelson and Vasileios Rakitzis make a welcome return to  St Nicholas’ a magical space and acoustic to kick off 2023 with relatively unfamiliar works by three composers, two of whom we know really well.


Alistair Jones A Winter Rhapsody s

The relatively less-known composer – Alistair Jones – was present, and rightly so, to hear a rendition of his A Winter Rhapsody. RAM and Cambridge-educated Jones has written large-scale Oratorios and after teaching and working for Yamaha pianos, was Conductor and Musical Director of the Chiswick Choir for 31 years.

 A Winter Rhapsody is a beautifully-flowing 14-minute piece ternary-shaped, with the opening and closing melody wrapping a fragile warmth enveloped in a bleak radiance, the violin’s luminosity in Nelson’s hands, its gaunt lyricism and bite answered decisively in the way Rakitzis cut through with precisely-weighted chords and a pianism suggesting enormous power held in reserve, inscribed through a lucid palette and clean attack.

Though echoing the Cheltenham Symphonist tradition – and we’ll return to one of those composers – Jones’ melos is a more tonal, vocal gift. How to describe it? It’s post Vaughan Williams, certainly, and eschews the haunted agon of Britten.

So Jones swerves those Hindemith-like, gnarly knurly edges beloved of say Alan Rawsthorne, Walter Leigh, Benjamin Frankl, Elizabeth Maconchy, Peter Racine Fricker, Arnold Cook, Robert Simpson, and Malcolm Arnold, and more perhaps of an earlier tradition which would include Cyril Rootham, whose choral work he helped revive. But if I had to pick a kindred composer, Arthur Butterworth comes to mind: wintry and evocative of blustery places, and younger than the foregoing (just) he as well as slightly older composers like Edmund Rubbra and Gerald Finzi.

There’s a surprise though. As the ternary shape after all the lyrical refractive world of the provisionally soaring middle section, where the opening themes, quite clear cut and refusing to be downright tragic, more elegiac (very British there) suddenly inflect the world hinted all along. And here the parallels to Britten’s Lachrimaye  become startlingly clear: Jones quotes William Byrd’s Earl of Salisbury’s  Pavan. It warms in like something precious caught from the chill, and its twinkling antique fire works as a kind of wintry affirmation of its own. This is a truly fine work, and ought to be better known – and recorded, perhaps on the Dutton label.


Franz Schubert Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor D385

Schubert’s posthumously published Violin Sonatas from 1816 (and later) when he was 21, were irritatingly shrivelled by Diabelli into Sonatina, because by the time of their publication in 1836, Sonata was an altogether grander thing. And maybe little Schubert, unlike classical Mozart, was expected to have anticipated this in the time of Beethoven. It’s rubbish of course. Bar the first in D major, the next two, this in A minor and the next in G minor, are fully-fledged four-movement and decidedly dark sonatas.

The opening   is certainly modest in tempo, but not ambition, as the sweeping long liens of the violin, incisively answered I the piano here, give way to remarkable inventiveness in its singing line, but one that builds on very simple materials, all held together by a rather relentless focus on a minor.

Indeed the striking thing as this work wanders into the walking restless Andante and fugato-like Menuetto and finally through a fully-fledged Allegro this time, is just how relentless this work is. All right, the menuetto is short, spiky and not a scherzo, at las tin name. But it’s pithy, and the work benefits from this focus, as it refuses to resolve very easily in the major, and doesn’t do so to any settled extent at all.

A superb work, and we need to banish ‘Sonatina’ so the works are finally recognized as a major, not incidental genre, and together with the Duo, another silly name for a sonata, and other works, we should have a clutch of five Violin Sonatas by a supreme composer. They are happily often played in Brighton. It starts here.


Malcolm Arnold Five Pieces Op 84 (1964)

So will the real Cheltenham symphonist please leap up? And that’s what Malcolm Arnold does. Retreating to Cornwall in the early to mid 1960s, Arnold didn’t escape his London demons, drink above all, but found a haunted melancholy lyricism streaked through with devilment (remember the Padstow Lifeboat?) and time tow rtie not only his Symphony No. 6 Op 95 later on in 1967, a deeply personal, troubled work, but a procession of chamber pieces all with the Op 80s tags. Bizarrely, they’re not at all well-known.

The five here, played with elan relish and zip by Nelson and Rakitzis are really exciting. Why aren’t these pieces better-known? We start with a Prelude – what else in a neo world? – that steams us into London nightclubs refracted through the haze of a Cornish pub. Things get going with an Aubade, that might suggest an aching hangover waking up in that same pub, but in fact is more luminous drawing upon coastlines and something other. A beautiful refraction. After, a Waltz zigs its way drunkenly across Piccadilly, like hailing the first passing perambulator when one over the 108, as it were. It’s another memorable winner, as is the edgy and heartfelt Ballad that follows it. Finally to wrap this storm recollected in a drinking bout, but in truth profoundly serious comes the brilliant Moto Perpetuo, that really should be up there with everyone ese’s including Paganini’s.

This is first-rank playing, worthy of any venue including the Wigmore. We’re lucky to have these artists, bringing such exciting repertoire.