United Kingdom Schubert, Bach, Davies, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky: Dejan Bogdanovich (violin) and Gabrielle Maria Vianello (piano), Kings Place, Hall One. 28.9.2017. (JB)
Schubert – Sonata for violin & piano in A major (‘Duo’) D574
Bach – Adagio from Sonata No.3 in C BVW1005
Peter Maxwell Davies – Sonatina for Violin Alone, Op.334
Saint-Saëns – Sonata No. 1 in D, Op.75
Tchaikovsky – Meditation No.1, Op.42 and Valse Scherzo, Op.34
All of Max Davies’s final works are Max having a conversation with himself: the thing which Max did best. (We often talked about conversations with yourself being the most essential of all human activities.) But the agonising pain of a possible cure for his leukaemia and the grotesque injustice of events involving friends near him, accelerated and intensified his end. Towards the end, his only objective was to bring the end date forward, just with enough time to complete the Great (my word) Tenth Symphony and some chamber works.
The struggle and the pathos is shot through these final works. Just as it was with Schubert, who Max much admired. With Schubert you may be sure that the sunny passages will soon be threatened with storm clouds or worse. The Davies musical vocabulary is distant from Schubert’s but in expression the two composers share much.
Sylvia Junge was Max’s right hand in his final years and she has now organised a concert dedicated to the memory of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. No one better than Sylvia to understand what was going on in those dark days.
In the spring of 2015, Max had received an invitation from the violinist, Fenella Humphreys, whose The Project, Bach to the Future had asked six composers to write a ten-minute piece based on a theme or movement from Bach. The Sonatina for Violin Alone was based on the Adagio from Sonata No.3 in C.
Dejan Bogdanovich played the Bach Adagio without much distinction. But when he followed it with the Davies Sonatina he poured his very soul into it. There was doom and gloom here. But it was so powerful, electrifying almost.
There had been a very modest account of the Schubert Grand Duo in A.
O dear! How could anyone be modest with Schubert? But it saddens me to report that this was. I’d better not be too critical, since because of delays in Southern Rail, I had missed the first movement. I found the pianist, Gabriele Maria Vianello, more alive to Schubert’s sensibilities than his violinist partner. There was more than a whiff of the mechanical in Bogdanovich’s Schubert.
But all that went out of the window with the Davies Sonatina. There were some grim dissonances, but these were delivered with passion. It was as though my old friend was in the room; indeed he was: more specifically in Bogdanovich’s fingers and heart. Lyrical sections gave way to musical drama. None of the light whimsy, so beloved of Max in his earlier works, of course. You might call this music funereal but it was funereal with celebration. I can almost hear Max dictating to me those last three words.
Whimsy is indeed called for in the Saint-Saëns Sonata No. 1 in D, but with this particular duo it was scarcely in evidence. This is a piece of the maestro which can easily become rambling and aimless, and that, I fear is what happened to it here. Nothing is more boring than virtuosity which is all show-off and little music.
The two Tchaikovsky virtuoso violin pieces, Meditation No.1 and Valse Scherzo fared rather better; some of the phrasing seemed enjoyed as much by the players as by the audience. But I’m with my friend, Christopher Axworthy (Keyboard Charitable Trust and owner of Teatro Ghione in Rome) who said he would far rather have forgone the David Oistrakh arrangement of another Tchaikovsky waltz and had for the encore, a repeat of Max’s moving Sonatina.