United Kingdom Elgar, Bliss: Eleanor Percy (violin), Irina Lyakhovskaya (piano), Robert Milnes (piano), Arthur Bliss Society Spring Concert, St Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham, 13.5.2015. (RJ)
Elgar: Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, Op 82
Bliss: Masks; Sonata for Violin and Piano; Rout
The distinctly unspringlike weather failed to dampen spirits at this event which featured both familiar and largely forgotten music by English composers.
Elgar’s Op 82 Sonata was the best known of the works played but even so it is not as celebrated as the Piano Quintet and Cello Concerto. Composed in 1918 in the tranquillity of Brinkwells in the West Sussex countryside it seems to be infused with the calm atmosphere of the place. After the bold opening the first movement slowed down to reveal an introspective, rhapsodic melody played with great empathy by Eleanor Percy to a gentle piano accompaniment by Irina Lyakhovskaya. Despite an increase in intensity later on the movement finished in a reflective mood. The second movement (Romance) exhibited both delicacy and capriciousness and included a dreamy interlude on muted strings. The extroversion was reserved for the finale with its broad, flowing opening melody which became more intense and passionate, yet leaving room for moments of reflection before leading up to a vigorous and upbeat climax. This was a thoroughly convincing and committed performance from the Percy-Lyakhovskaya Duo.
Irina Lyakhovskaya followed this with a brilliant performance of Bliss’s Masks suite which dates from 1924. The percussive Allegro vivace e giocoso (A Comedy Mask) must have sounded shockingly modern at the time and very much in the tradition of the Ballets Russes. The Moderato (A Romantic Mask) was more conventional, while the Andante con mesto (A Sinister Mask) sent a shiver down one’s spine and brought to mind Ravel’s Le Gibet from Gaspard de la Nuit. There was plenty of bombast (and irony?), however, in the final Allegro energico (A Miliary Mask) which ends on a thoughtful note as if questioning whether the sacrifice was justified.
Robert Milnes from the Arthur Bliss Society introduced the Sonata for Violin and Piano, the last work Bliss composed before he went off to the First World War. He explained that the work might have been lost for posterity had it not been for some deft detective work which reunited the violin part with the piano part. It appears that Lady Bliss was none too keen to have many of her husband’s early works published (presumably at Sir Arthur’s request), but she was eventually persuaded that many of them had merit, which this one-movement sonata most definitely has.
The Sonata begins with a short piano introduction in which one could detect traces of his contemporary, Vaughan Williams After the entry of the violin the music grew in intensity before adopting a gentler, more pastoral character. Dance elements intruded more than once and there was plenty of tension before the stress and strain subsided into what one could describe as a Bliss-ful ending.
Judging from this fine performance by Eleanor Percy and Irina Lyakhovskaya, this is a work that deserves to be heard again and again. It is good to see it has been recorded by Rupert Luck and Matthew Rickard for EM Records, which was accorded the accolade Disc of the Month by Musicweb International. I also understand that the Arthur Bliss Society is in the process of publishing the work.
To round off the afternoon Robert Milnes joined Irina Lyakhovskaya for the piano duet version of Rout, a rousing, festive, rhythmically exciting piece with distinct echoes of Stravinsky and Les Six.