About this Recording
8.554401-02 - Violin Recital: Michiko Kamiya

Laureate Recital
Michiko Kamiya & Ian Brown

The works that Beethoven wrote for violin and keyboard cover a period from about 1792, when he first arrived in Vienna, up to 1819, the time of the Hammerklavier Sonata. The most significant part of this repertoire must be the ten sonatas, which, although uneven in quality, represent a major contribution to the literature of the violin sonata. Here Beethoven, who had also been trained as a string-player at home in Bonn and seems to have taken further lessons in Vienna, was able to provide music in which both violinist and pianist fully shared, neither serving as accompanist to the other.

The first set of three sonatas for violin and piano was written in the years 1797 and 1798 and published by Artaria in the following year. The set is dedicated to the influential Court Composer Antonio Salieri, with whom Beethoven had studied Italian word-setting. The second work in the group, the Sonata in A major, opens with a whimsical theme, accompanied by the violin, which soon joins in to share the melody with the piano, to be followed by a second subject. The central development of the movement is much concerned with figures from the first subject, rising to a point where the original material can be reintroduced in a recapitulation. The A minor slow movement allows the piano to announce an eight-bar theme, which the violin repeats. This serves as an outer framework for a middle section in which piano and violin work in imitation of one another. This is followed by a finale in the original key, offering a principal theme of almost ingenuous outline, surrounding contrasting intervening episodes of greater dramatic intensity.

Franz Schubert was the only one of the great classical composers of the turn of the century to have been born in Vienna, where he spent the greater part of his short life. His parents, however, had moved to the city, his father to join his brother as a schoolmaster. After his schooling as a chorister of the Imperial Chapel, Schubert seemed destined for the same trade, from which he generally managed to escape, passing much of his time in the company of friends, contemporaries who shared many of his own interests. The closing months of 1816 had brought him a temporary respite from the drudgery of the classroom, when he was persuaded by his friend Franz von Schober to take advantage of his mother's hospitality and live in relative freedom, at least for the time being. In 1817, the year of the Duo Sonata in A major, later published as Opus 162, publishers showed little interest in Schubert's music, but it was in this year that he met the older singer, Johann Michael Vogl, of the court opera, now nearing retirement from the stage and willing to perform on the modest scale of the Viennese salon, an important connection. The Duo Sonata followed the three more modest sonatinas or sonatas of 1816 and shares its musical tasks between violin and piano. As so often with Schubert, there is something song-like about the first theme offered by the violin in the opening Allegro moderato, followed by further musical ideas before a brief central development and an orderly recapitulation. The second movement is a Scherzo, placed here to provide a contrast that proximity to the last movement would not here allow. There are surprises of key, as the E major Scherzo gives way to a C major Trio, approached chromatically by the violin. After the return of the Scherzo section an Andantino follows, shifting from its original C major to D flat and then to A flat, dominated by its returning principal theme. The sonata ends with an Allegro vivace, something of a scherzo in mood and character, if not in form, and avoiding the prolixity of some of Schubert's finales. The movement explores, in its course, the wider harmonic vocabulary that was always apart of his musical language.

Once known as the French Mendelssohn, Camille Saint-Saëns was a precocious virtuoso pianist as a child and as a composer showed, throughout a long life, an amazing versatility and technical assurance, as he turned his hand to a variety of genres. The first of his two violin sonatas, the Sonata in D minor, Opus 75, written in 1885, came at a time when he was at the height of his powers, the period of the famous Organ Symphony and of a private jeu d'esprit that he himself deprecated but that has retained amazing popularity, The Carnival of the Animals. The sonata has the composer's usual clarity of texture and sureness of technique and makes considerable technical demands on the violinist, particularly in its brilliant conclusion. The first movement opens with a flourish, leading to a more lyrical secondary theme, in marked contrast with the opening material. This leads into an Adagio of continued melodic interest, carried forward by the violin, which makes its occasional additional rhapsodic comment. This is followed by a Scherzo movement, with a trio section that allows the piano to add its own more rapid figuration to a sustained violin melody, before the return of the opening section of the movement. A transitional passage leads to the final Allegro molto, a study in perpetual motion, in which both instruments have their share.

In 1850 Robert Schumann took up his first official position as director of music in the city of Düsseldorf, accompanied there by his wife, the distinguished pianist Clara Schumann, and his growing family. The first years, at least, were fruitful, although there was an occasional return of his earlier depressions, leading finally in 1854 to a suicide attempt and subsequent relative isolation in an asylum until his death in 1856. In 1851, however, an optimistic and productive year, he wrote his third symphony, the Rhenish, his third piano trio, the wonderfully evocative Märchenbilder and his first two violin sonatas. In these last Schumann makes no attempt to exploit the technical possibilities of the violin, preferring rather to use the instrument at its most expressive in music that has much in common with the shorter pieces of his final years. The Sonata No. 1 in A minor starts with an expressive first movement, the passionate principal theme played first in the lower register of the violin. It is from this material that the rest of the movement develops, with a second subject that shares elements in common. These themes are further developed in the central section of the movement, ending with augmentation of the first theme, as the recapitulation is ushered in. The second movement, like the Märchenbilder, seems to have some narrative content. The gentle Allegretto starts the tale, answered in a livelier phrase. The key shifts briefly from F major to F minor before the return of the opening. The following passage adds further excitement to the story, with an emphatic ending, leading to the re-appearance of the material with which the movement had opened. In the third movement the piano starts the rapid and agitated melody, at once imitated by the violin. There are references to the first movement in music that preserves its continuing tension to a determined conclusion.

The Polish-born violinist Samuel Dushkin had been adopted as a child by the American composer, Blair Fairchild, who had fostered his career. In 1930 the director of the publisher Schott's, Willy Strecker, introduced Dushkin to Stravinsky and encouraged the latter to turn his attention to the composition of a violin concerto, to be commissioned by Fairchild. This was completed in the following year, with technical assistance from Dushkin, who was the soloist in the first performance in Berlin in October 1931. It was after writing this work that Stravinsky, his interest now stimulated, turned to the composition of his Duo Concertant, completed in the summer of 1932. The composer explains in his autobiography his debt both to Charles Albert Cingria's book Petrarch and to his own love of the ancient pastoral poets of Greece and Rome. The completed work, which was first performed in October 1932 in Berlin, formed part of programmes of recitals throughout Europe now undertaken by Dushkin and Stravinsky. The theme chosen, first heard in the Cantilène, is developed through the five movements. This opening movement contrasts a lyrical element with the rapid figuration that surrounds it. The first Eglogue opens with a sustained note against piano figuration, followed by characteristically brusquer fragments from the violin, while busy piano figuration continues, until the music comes to an abrupt end. The second Eglogue opens lyrically in a slow tempo, a moment of contemplative repose before the lively and extended Gigue, with its compulsive syncopations and rhythms, broken by a variation in the dance before the triple rhythm resumes. The Duo Concertant closes with a tribute to Dionysus in a Dithyrambe, its gentle and melancholy melody unwinding in no wild dance but in a spirit more akin to that of early Greek examples of the literary form.

Tōru Takemitsu was a composer of great originality, combining a variety of experimental modern techniques and ideas rooted in early Japanese musical traditions. It was in 1951, the year in which he wrote Distance de Fée (‘Distance of Fairy’), that he began formal collaboration with Fumio Hayasaka and Yoritsune Matsudaira, both experienced composers, some years his senior. Distance de Fée, for violin and piano, written in the same year, is one of his earliest published compositions and marks a step in his development to an idiom entirely his own in his interest in timbres, textures and the use of silence, generally avoiding any trace of conventional formal structure.

The violinist Joseph Joachim was born at Kitsee, near the modern Bratislava, in 1831 and gave his first public recital in Pest at the age of seven. In 1843, after study in Vienna, he began an association in Leipzig with Mendelssohn, a formative influence on his development. It was here that he was the soloist in concerts directed by Mendelssohn with the Gewandhaus Orchestra. An international career took him first to Weimar as leader of Liszt's orchestra and then to Hanover, as violinist to the King. His meeting with Brahms led to the introduction of the latter to Joachim's friends in Düsseldorf, Robert and Clara Schumann. Joachim's friendship with Brahms continued, more or less unbroken, apart from one notable disagreement, until the latter's death in 1897. As a composer Joachim wrote relatively little and that principally for the violin. His Three Pieces, Opus 2, were written about the year 1850. The charming Romanze is the first of the group.

Born in Lublin in 1835, the violinist Henryk Wieniawski had his training as a performer and as a composer at the Paris Conservatoire. He was later able to enrich his own repertoire with a number of characteristic compositions for violin and orchestra or violin and piano. His second Polonaise brillante, originally for violin and orchestra, but here arranged by Zino Francescatti, was first published in 1870 during a period spent largely in Russia, where he served as court violinist and professor at the St Petersburg Conservatory. From 1875 to 1877 he taught at the Brussels Conservatory, where he succeeded Vieuxtemps. It was during a tour of Russia in 1880 that he suffered his final illness, dying in Moscow at the age of 44. The Polonaise was a form familiar enough to a musician born in Poland and offered possibilities for virtuoso exploitation, as in Wieniawski's treatment of the dance. Virtuoso works of this kind may be a reminder of Wieniawski's own motto, Il faut risquer (One must take risks), his own principle as a performer and, in a sense, in the music he wrote for the violin.

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