Monday, 3 November 2008

(un)Seasonal sonatas

At the superb concert venue that is Emmanuel URC, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, Jane and I recently offered up this tasty morsel...

Sonata in F major, Op.24
1. Allegro
2. Adagio molto espressivo
3. Scherzo & Trio (Allegro molto)
4. Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo)

It is easy to see (hear) why this sonata is known as the “Spring Sonata”. Birdsong and gentle breezes fill the first movement’s opening theme and the whole work is full of energy and surprises. There are stormy passages and passionate outbursts throughout the first movement but the mood is almost relentlessly optimistic. The slow movement is lean and simple and sounds far away, yet is strangely beautiful. The scherzo is a true joke, with a clumsy trio that rushes hot on its heels. It leads straight into the finale, a rondo (the first tune returns again and again, ABACADA…) on an almost childish theme. All sorts of sliding around and inventiveness in the presentation of the themes leads to the uproarious conclusion. This is definitely the work of a young(ish) man. It comes from 1801 and is the fifth of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas, nine of which he wrote by his mid-thirties.

Sonata No.2 in A major, Op. 100
1. Allegro amabile
2. Andante tranquillo – Vivace
3. Allegro molto moderato

Why did Brahms wait so long before composing any violin sonatas? The shadow of Beethoven stretched a long way into 19th century Germany and Brahms was a very cautious person, always feeling the pressure of coming after such a ground-breaking composer. He was 40 when he wrote his first published sonata for the instrument and fifty when a lakeside holiday in Switzerland inspired this – his sunniest and “summeriest” work. The bonus for us of Brahms’ tremendous caution is that all of his published works display an incredible craftsmanship. This sonata is no exception; its lyrical and flowing mood is held together by ingenious counterpoint and reworking of material (see if you can hear the first movement’s main theme as it tries to accompany the finale’s first theme). The central movement is both a slow movement and a scherzo, getting progressively faster and more manic each time it appears, making full use of pizzicato (plucking) as the violin imitates a banjo. The serene finale, like the first movement, quotes from songs by Brahms, songs about gardens, flowers and lovers. Not even the mysterious piano flourishes and dark arpeggios can dispel the summer and its radiant coda.