Brooding and contemplative music

Zehetmair and Aimard, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Festival, June 26th

A substantial violin and piano recital beckoned at Snape on this glorious Saturday morning. Things began with the piano alone, Pierre Boulez’s Douze Notations, also a beginning for the 20 year old composer. A year earlier Messian had floated some ideas about how Webern’s serial technique might be applied more widely; Boulez took up the idea and ran with it. If the glissandos and ostinatos retain their power to this day what impact must they have made on the war ravaged Europe of 1945?

Schonberg’s Phantasy for violin and piano is a late work, composed in 1949, two years before his death, but still has some of the feverish quality one associates with his works of nearly half a century earlier. It is a striking work, aggressive and spiky early on, followed by more brooding and contemplative music. Thomas Zehetmair was equal to all the technical challenges and Pierre Aimard steered the tricky accompaniment with a mixture of finesse and �lan.

Schumann’s A minor violin sonata contains some fine music, particularly in the first movement which swept along with a fine passion and rich string tone reminiscent of early Brahms. The intermezzo, less thematically distinguished but cleverly constructed and the rather breathless finale do not quite measure up to the opening but the commitment and surefootedness of the duo carried all before it.

Mozart’s E minor violin sonata some how failed to ignite but Boulez’s Anthemes 1 for solo violin came across brilliantly, Zehetmair picking up all the mercurial twists and turns of the music and demonstrating a faultless array of bowing techniques.

After so much tension and concentration Schubert’s late C major Fantasy provided a complete contrast. There were some spellbinding passages, notably the atmospheric piano opening with the violin creeping through the shifting clouds, superbly painted by Aimard and the chord looking forward to the opening of the string quintet. Yet there were longeurs too, the song variations too easily settling into Schubert’s facile note-spinning. Yet there was charm and brio a-plenty and the 2 hours plus recital covered an immense amount of musical ground, delivering both insight and satisfaction.

Gareth Jones