Sunday, 22 March 2015

Once again the Steinberg Duo show what terrific artists they are in this very fine new release from Nimbus of works by Franck, Dvořák and Grieg

Nimbus Records  have continued their association with the Steinberg Duo with a new release that features works by Franck, Dvořák and Grieg.
NI 6294

The Steinberg Duo, Louisa Stonehill (violin) and Nicholas Burns (piano) were formed in 2007. Since 2009 they have curated their own recital series in the intimate setting of the 1901 Arts Club on London’s Southbank and for the past three years have spent each January in residence at The Banff Centre in Canada.

The Duo have studied intensively with eminent chamber musicians at home and abroad. They were regular participants in the ChamberStudio masterclasses at Kings Place between 2010 and 2012 and at IMS Prussia Cove in 2010.

The Duo have performed in Canada, Spain, Germany and throughout the UK with 2013 marking the release of their first commercial recording for the Nimbus Alliance and their first live broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

The Duo is passionate about presenting violin and piano repertoire as an equal partnership. They are committed to supporting high quality contemporary music and enjoy a particularly close association with composer Philip Sawyers. Indeed it was their Nimbus recording of the violin sonatas of Sawyers and Elgar that drew me to these fine musicians.

Louisa Stonehill plays on a English violin made in early 2010 by Glen Collins, based on the Lord Wilton Guarneri del Jesu violin owned by the late Yehudi Menuhin. The Duo takes its name from Louisa’s original Polish surname which was anglicised by her father in the 1940s.

The Steinberg Duo open their new disc with a lesser known work, by César Franck (1822-1890), for violin and piano, the Andantino quietoso, Op. 6 written in 1843. The piano introduces the melody before developing a lovely rippling piano motif to which the violin brings a lovely flowing melody. It rises in passion as it progresses with the piano taking the melody before the violin resumes the lovely theme. This duo brings some lovely textures and sonorities as well as some lovely hushed moments towards the exquisite coda. This is a lovely piece to open this disc.

Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major dates from 1886. The Allegretto ben moderato has a lovely piano opening so tentative before the violin brings the fine theme. Here Louisa Stonehill produces an exquisite violin tone with Nicholas Burns bringing beautifully limpid, flowing passages.  There is a beautifully relaxed quality here, so right for the music, with a lovely fine ebb and flow.

There are some extremely fine, fluent piano phrases in the opening of the Allegro and, when Louisa Stonehill enters, she adds an extra feeling of urgency with an incisive tone, bringing out little hints of the first movement main theme. There is a lovely thoughtful section before the music rises up dramatically, these players bringing much passion, really throwing themselves into the music with a tremendous sense of freedom and passion. Overall this movement receives a really fiery performance.

Broad chords from the piano open the Recitativo – Fantasia: Moderato – Molto Lento before a thoughtful section for violin and piano where these fine artists bring much atmosphere and, indeed, fantasy. They provide such well-shaped phrases as the music progresses slowly forward with Stonehill producing some very fine sonorities. As the music rises in passion, both bring some terrific playing full of strength and restrained power, contrasting so well with moments of supreme hushed delicacy.

What a lovely tune the Allegretto poco mosso has, revealed here with a directness of utterance that is thoroughly beguiling. Burns provides a fine flowing line against Stonehill’s melodic outpouring. There are moments of intense passion before rising to a decisive coda.  

Antonin Dvořák’s (1841-1904) Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75 date from 1887 and are an arrangement of his Four Pieces for two violins and viola B.149 of that same year. I must admit to not having heard these pieces before so I have been glad to have made their acquaintance, especially in such fine performances as these.

The Allegro moderato has a lovely rhythmic piano accompaniment to the violin’s fine melody, this duo bringing a lovely rubato, drawing on every nuance. The Allegro maestoso brings incisive phrases in this folk like, rhythmic dance theme, a captivating piece, perfectly captured here with fine violin textures from Stonehill. The Allegro appassionato has a rippling piano accompaniment to a faster flowing violin theme beautifully played by this duo. Finally there is a Larghetto, full of sensitivity and gentle passion with another fine theme. Stonehill finds some lovely sonorities, often hushed, breathtakingly so, with a sensitive accompaniment from Burns before an exquisitely controlled coda.

Around the same time as Dvořák was writing his Four Romantic Pieces, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was working on his Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45.
Louisa Stonehill really bites into the opening of the Allegro molto ed appassionato, both bringing much panache and fire before a quiet passage when Nicholas Burns gives us lovely playing. The passion soon returns with lovely shaping of the many changes of mood, both players bringing fine timbres and colours to the music. There are some fine hushed textures from Stonehill, rising to moments of great passion with terrific textures, these players bringing such a freedom of expression. Burns brings a lovely rounded piano tone supporting Stonehill’s fine timbres before a light textured and buoyant run to the coda.

Burn’s playing in the opening of the Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza is wonderfully phrased as he reveals Grieg’s exquisite melody. As Stonehill enters, she takes the wonderful theme forward with a gentle passion before picking up the pace rhythmically with fine pizzicato phrases. There are some fine broader phrases from Burns and more fine sense of freedom in their playing.  

Fast, rippling piano phrases, beautifully fluent, open the Allegro animato before Nicholas Burns is quickly joined by Louisa Stonehill, these two responding so well to each other’s phrases. They keep a tension as the theme appears ready to break out; when it does they bring playing of tremendous flair and panache. There are lovely little pizzicato phrases and delicate piano notes as well as lovely rich violin timbres and moments of terrific rhythmic energy before the coda.

This is a superb performance.

Once again the Steinberg Duo show what terrific artists they are in this very fine new release. The recording is close but detailed and clear. There are excellent notes from Nicholas Burns.

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