Tasmin Little, like Nigel Kennedy, studied at the Menuhin School (with Pauline Scott) before attending London’s Guildhall School of Music. Although a prodigiously gifted child, it was the 1982 finals of BBC television’s Young Musician of the Year that made her well known.
An Ambassador for The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, Little is also an Ambassador for Youth Music and President of the European String Teachers’ Association. She has received honorary degrees from the universities of Bradford (birthplace of Delius), Leicester, Hertfordshire and the City of London and is a Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 1986 she published a paper charting the genesis and performance history of Delius’s Violin Concerto, and in 2008, keen to embrace modern technology, she launched ‘The Naked Violin’. This project, which was featured on UK television, made three recordings of unaccompanied violin works, along with spoken commentaries, available via the internet as free downloads. Within days of the material going live several thousand websites linked to it.
Noted for her performance of English music, Little plays a 1757 Guadagnini violin and has the ‘Regent’ Stradivarius of 1708 on loan from the Royal Academy of Music. Her recording of Delius’s Violin Sonatas with Piers Lane (1997) won the coveted Diapason d’Or, and in 1999 she gave the first modern, and only the second complete, performance of Finzi’s Violin Concerto. Her 2010 recording of Elgar’s Concerto includes a revival of his revised and truncated cadenza adapted for Marie Hall’s 1916 acoustic recording.
Little’s playing suits the warm tones and subtle musical language of Delius well, and her performances here of the Concerto (2011) and Sonata No 2 are fine renditions at spacious tempi with sufficient depth to avoid the ‘washed-out’ impression sometimes given of this composer’s language. This full-blooded yet suitably restrained passion works equally well in the Finzi (2000) and Elgar concertos. This said, it is a little disappointing to hear such warmth disfigured by resort to very wide and slow vibrato, which spoils the line of many phrases and seems an unnecessary mannerism from a performer of otherwise sterling qualities. Pärt’s Fratres (1994) avoids such traits and is performed cleanly, although Mozart’s Sonata K.296 (2009, included here as an insight into Little’s treatment of older repertory) is a rather routine interpretation, if articulated with considerable technical confidence.
Perhaps Little’s playing is not as exceptional as her innovative work (not least in bringing to the fore some neglected violin repertoire), but this is not to make light of the achievements of a refined and able British musician.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)