FringeReview UK 2019
Oliver Nelson’s and David Way’s violin and viola recital take sin two major works. The Toch Divertimento of 1925 and the Villa-Lobos Duo of 1946.
Oliver Nelson and David Way are both renowned soloists, and Nelson appears with a piano partner here too.
There’s something really special about their violin and viola recitals though that opens up a wonderful seam. Started by Mozart with his duos, the rich harvest was touched last year with pieces by Halvorsen, Milhaud and Martinu, all major pieces. This year its slightly less well-known work by composers both born in 1887.
Whilst we know Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ernst Toch (1887-1964) is now unjustly forgotten. Composer of seven symphonies mostly late, and 13 string quartets mostly early, his refractory genius glimmers through and is more than worth revival – as has happened extensively on CD. He even wrote film music, including a chase scherzo for Shirley Temple’s Heidi in 1937.
His 1925 Divertimento seems split between the rather scherzo-like outer movements and a plangent memorable and tonally very rich slow movement. It’s tonal throbbing and powerful. Nelson and Way have a rapport that thews and threads their virtuosity together and points up the fiery points of the brittle lyricism of those outer movements. This is a powerful work, and shows again why this unique combination attracted so many early-to-mid-century composers. Nelson and Way express this with a freshness and attack that’s both warm but attentive to dynamics; there’s never anything generalised.
The Villa-Lobos 1946 Duo is too, and it’s more astringent than we’re used to in his seventeen string quartets. Like the younger Milhaud who taught him, he began eighteen, but didn’t manage to complete the last.
This work seems in one sense like that: the sharper side of one of his later contrapuntal works with all the waves of tonal warmth removed, by taking away a violin and cello. But the result’s thrilling. Again a slow movement’s at the heart, but here the three movements are more of a piece. Neither so atonal as Toch’s outer movements, nor so consonant as the Toch slow movement, this seems like a more than worthy appendage to the quartets. The slow winding-in of tonal flushes in the opening to a more complex dialogue is beautifully done. As is the haunted, slow-throbbing slow movement and jagged dance of a finale – all with the hallmark of Vila-Lobos motor-rhythms, which here aren’t at all monotonous or automatic. They serve to provide a lift-off to contrapuntal and musical arguments, and satisfying music.
It’d be wonderful to see more of this du in Brighton. Consummate and distinctive music-making with repertoire nearly forgotten.