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Steinberg Duo: CD + London dates

| Culture, Hidden London, Music | 19/12/2013

Steinberg Duo
Steinberg Duo: Louisa Stonehill and Nicholas Burns.

Having heard the Steinberg Duo perform at the gorgeous 1901 Arts Club and admired Louisa Stonehill’s freely confident violining I wondered how it would translate to CD. It translates exceedingly well. Their current album is a stylish selection of British music featuring contemporary composer Philip Sawyers’ two violin sonatas, separated by forty years, alongside Elgar’s sonata written some fifty years previous. All timeless, all blending perfectly.


The enticing and enchanting salon of the 1901 Arts Club.

Sawyers’ early Violin Sonata infuses itself into the bloodstream like unhinged Herrmann. The first movement is an energy-charged gallop, the violin a bird of prey racing the piano-stallion. Avant-garde yet traditionally-crafted, the composer considers that “the sonatas would, I suppose, fall under the category of absolute music, something classic and pure in that there is no storyline or programme behind them.” Thus listeners are free to create their own images. The Andante is indeed a more leisurely stroll, breathing-in strong morning air, the blissful state of becoming lost. Then swept away by the Allegro Scherzando, racing towards an invigorating close. “I have always been attracted to music as a language”, says Sawyers, “sonatas for two instruments, as these are, give a wonderful opportunity for real dialogue on an intimate scale…”


The second sonata initiates a frenzied almost Beethovian motif, bounding between tempi like a wildcat stalking the undergrowth. Stonehill parts the leaves diligently, ever more layers of intrigue, tricking dreamlike rest before kicking wide-awake. The Andante as smooth as morning coffee stirs-in delicious harmonisation from the violin seemingly effortlessly. Its creator explains that “being a player myself, I only write what I can hear in my mind’s ear… always written for the instrument in question, not against it!” Into yet another world via gentler transition, the Allegro is light and free, as scraps of song unravel, a ribboned baton unfurled by pianist Nicholas Burns.


Composer Philip Sawyers at work.

The modernity of the opening bars of Elgar’s Violin Sonata is striking. The players’ drive and energy also accommodate the more sweetly recognisable Elgarian aspects, a just-right shade of vibrato intertwining with rapturously balletic piano. The Romance is restful, delicate yet certain: the tender sweep of the violin enough to soothe any sorry brow, the gentle piano thrumming a weary neck. Written whilst Elgar was recuperating in West Sussex, his wife considered this second section inspired by the genius loci of the rural surrounds. Stonehill is not shy of rasping the end of a note, allowing a tune to breathe. Her delicate intonation unites with keen but undemonstrative piano magicising the Allegro non troppo. If referencing Classical idioms, Elgar was also looking ahead; his influence on Vaughan Williams crystal clear.

This remarkable recording is rich and full never dense. The piano is played as a stringed instrument in perfect sympathy with the violinist whose lightness of touch belies a sonorous depth of tone. Leaves you yearning.

Steinberg Duo’s 2014 London dates include:

Music for Valentines Day

7.30pm, Friday 14 February, 1901 Arts Club

Mozart, Schubert and Brahms

6.00pm, Sunday 23 February, Steinberg Music Studio


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