A Rewarding and Enterprising Recital by Fenella Humphreys and Nicola Eimer

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Sibelius, Nielsen, Frances-Hoad, Taylor, Nicolson, Powers, Knotts. Fenella Humphreys (violin), Nicola Eimer (piano) Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London. 4.2.2015 (LB)
Sibelius– Five Pieces, Op. 81
Nielsen – Sonata No. 2, Op. 35
Sibelius – Sonatina in E major Op. 80
Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Matthew Taylor, Alasdair Nicolson, Anthony Powers, David Knotts – Five Pieces after Sibelius Op.81 (World Premiere)
Sibelius – Four Pieces, Op 115.

At a time when the vast majority of violin recitals appear to embrace no more than a recurring diet of a comparatively small handful of well-known works from the standard repertoire, it is refreshing to encounter an artist like Fenella Humphries, whose programming demonstrates such confidence, thoughtfulness and originality.

In her recital at the Purcell Room this evening she and her duo partner, Nicola Eimer, presented a programme of works for violin and piano by Sibelius and Nielsen, along with the world premiere performance of five specially commissioned new works, inspired by Sibelius’ Five Pieces Op. 81.

Sibelius and Nielsen, both better known and admired for their symphonies, were also born in the same year, 1865, and this concert was given in celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of their respective births.

Sibelius entertained ambitions of becoming a virtuoso violinist, and even though his violin concerto is particularly well known, it should come as no surprise that there is much more to his output for the violin, both with orchestra and also with piano, much of it inexplicably neglected. Fenella Humphreys and Nicola Eimer began their recital with his challenging Five Pieces Op. 81, which demand both technical and musical virtuosity, and they persuasively captured the essence of each of the pieces, in a thoughtful performance of great charm.
Nielsen’s Second Sonata is a wholly grittier affair, and the first movement was dispatched with appropriate fire, but with the moments of repose strikingly tender. Ensemble and balance in the animated exchanges between the violin and piano in the second movement were impressive, and the final movement benefitted from an almost nonchalant rhythmic swagger.

Sibelius’ enchanting Sonatina in E major Op. 80, which began the second half of the concert, returned us to something slightly less acerbic than the musical language of Denmark’s foremost composer, and it was given an affectionate performance.

The new compositions by five different composers, each with a uniquely identifiable musical vocabulary, but inspired by Sibelius’ Five Pieces Op. 81, proved to be a triumph at many levels. All of the pieces emulated and exploited Sibelius’ virtuosity as both a composer and violinist, whilst retaining something much more personal. Each new piece took the title, or nearly the same title, of one of the Five Pieces – Mazurka; Rondino; Valse; Aubade; Menuetto – and were played in that same order.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Mazurka was passionate, charming and whimsical, Matthew Taylor’s Rondeau was austere but absorbing, Alasdair Nicolson’s Waltz virtuosic, Anthony Powers’ Aubade intellectually compelling and David Knott’s Menuetto could have been danced to. Each of the pieces was performed with consummate skill by its dedicatees, and on the strength of this showing they deserve to continue life as a complete set.

A fiery performance of Sibelius’ Four Pieces Op. 115 brought the programme to a jubilant conclusion, and the appreciative audience was treated to a short but tender encore of Lullaby by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, a choice that underscored the pioneering character of the recital.

Leon Bosch

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