1917: Works for Violin & Piano


Rising-star violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen is joined by the eminent pianist-composer Huw Watkins in a diverse programme of works that were all influenced in different ways by the era in which they were composed. The works were conceived at four very different points in the composer’s lives – Debussy, at the end of his life, Respighi in the first flush of fame, Elgar, although not old, enjoying his last creative period, and Sibelius in his prime composing prolifically.

These four contrasting works were all composed as the Great War drew to a close, but none of them specifically attempts to conjure up images of the conflict, nor act as any kind of programmatic memorial to its victims. Rather, these works are all conceived as absolute music, albeit, in the case of the Elgar and Debussy sonatas, imbued with a melancholy regret that may have been a reflection of those tragic four years.

2CD Release



What people are saying

Young Artist to Watch "Great playing from the very talented Tamsin Waley-Cohen. This really highlights the talent of the next generation of virtuosi." David Mellor, Classic FM

"…  a wonderfully subtle, introspective and touching performance." The Guardian, June 2014 

Recommended RecordingThe Strad, July 2014

Tamsin Waley-Cohen violin

Huw Watkins piano

Release date:7th Apr 2014
Order code:SIGCD376
Barcode: 635212037621

1917 is the date that largely covers the composition of these works. The finicky might point to small discrepancies but surely only the pedantic could possibly complain. The concept however gives an opportunity to listen to three major sonatas from the time and Sibelius’s altogether unserious Five Pieces, Op.81 which seem to act as a kind of scherzo for the surrounding work’s intensities.

Each of the three sonatas receives a strongly personalised reading. The Elgar feeds on the often very strong contrasts between power and refinement that Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins find in it. Canny and sensitive dynamics ensure that phrasing is kept alive and some of passagework, which others make sound merely mechanical, is here alert and well characterised. The proportions, though not necessarily the interpretation as a whole, remind me of Tasmin Little’s recording but Waley-Cohen’s tone is not as large as Little’s and she is more inclined to stress the feminine qualities of the music. This is especially true in the slow movement, which is taken with decided inwardness, but warmed by the violinist’s sweet, chaste tone. In all this Huw Watkins is a more than equal partner, and he is always worth listening to in this repertoire, as he shows in the series of British cello sonatas he is recording with this brother on Chandos. His cultivation of some spectral sonorities in the finale is especially noteworthy, and neither he nor Waley-Cohen indulge the reminiscence of the second movement theme toward the end of the work, and that’s all to the good. So, this is a very interesting reading, with a strong point of view, more than usually weighted to the feminine perspective.

Debussy’s Sonata is taken rather in the modern manner, and so it just misses that element of vitality and quicksilver that animates those great historic performances of Dubois and Maas, and Francescatti and Casadesus. Partly this is a matter of tempo – all modern performances are slower – but it’s as much to do with the rapid alternation of expressive material in this sonata. Still, this is another engaging performance – elegant, refined, and not overwrought. Once more dynamics are very much an important element of the success of the recording and whilst I rather miss the sense of the ‘fantastique’ in the slow movement and true zest in the finale, the performance works well on its own terms. Respighi’s Sonata, as I’ve written elsewhere, has never had it so good on disc. The best performances are, structurally speaking, the tightest, where the chromaticisms and Franckisms are not allowed to provoke the ear. This reading avoids too much distension, and is well shaped. Here I feel that Watkins draws the ear even more than Waley-Cohen and he brings a real sense of colour and imagination to the performance – virtuosity too, because, like the Franck Violin Sonata, much of the burden in the Respighi falls on the pianist. It’s another recommendable performance, not as concertante-like as some, and not as brisk, too – certainly not in relation to Suk, and to Heifetz, prominently. The Sibelius pieces are charming, wistful and very light. They bring an elegant simplicity to the recital.

It’s a little unfortunate that the total timing (85 minutes) means that recording is split across two discs, though I see that it’s, rightly, priced ‘as for one’. The balance in St George’s, Bristol is very good and the concept worthwhile. The performances, as noted, are sensitive, characterful and present a strong point of view. I enjoyed them very much, even if my preferences ultimately lie elsewhere.

Musicweb International, Jonathan Woolf

Tamsin Waley- Cohen’s love for Debussy’s Violin Sonata of 1917 led her to assemble four works for violin and piano written at that date or near it. The Respighi was an obvious choice; then she discovered that Sibelius had written his Op 81 collection at that time too, while 1917 was the date when Elgar wrote his Sonata, one of his three late chamber works.

The date is not the only quality that the works share: each has an echo of the Spanish. That is true not only of the Debussy. The central movement of the Elgar, with its strange pizzicato effects over a slithering melodic line, certainly has something of a Spanish flavour. In the Sibelius pieces it is not only the Aubade that echoes Spanish music, with its spread chords and pizzicatos, but the opening Mazurka. The Rondino too, marked Allegretto grazioso. The Respighi is mainly distinctive for the elaborate piano-writing, superbly played by Huw Watkins, not least  in the tender melancholy of the central clean separation slow movement. 

Waley-Cohen plays with an obvious love of the music, most sympathetically accompanied by Watkins. Fine sound, with an excellent sense of presence and clean separation.

Edward Greenfleld, Gramophone, July 2014

Chronology is as good an excuse as any to collect some fine music together, and these pieces make an attractive set. Tamsin Waley-Cohen approaches Debussy with delicacy and a sense of wonder, performing parts of the first movement as if afraid it might be fragile. The composer distributes tempo adjustments liberally through the second movement, and the duo responds with liquid flexibility of tempo, musing, halting. pressing forward. The scherzando passage is wonderfully dry, with a touch of comedy. The finale has plenty of vitality, but without the helter-skelter rapidity of some- the player’s have evidently taken note of the metronome markings, and Debussy’s get-faster indications are tellingly observed. This is a performance of colour and personality.

The young Respighi sounds rather older than Debussy in his B minor Sonata, firmly rooted in the Brahmsian past. Waley-Cohen maintains a fluient, occasionally impassioned cantilena through the first two movements. particularly in the Poco piu mosso section of the second, before launching into the final Passacaglia with an impressive display of emotional power and muscularity. She is elegant and suave in Sibelius’s Five Pieces op.81, with some earthy dancing in the opening Mazurka and grace in the final Menuetto.

There is power in the first movement of Elgar’s sonata. but the espressivo arpeggio passages have an intimacy that carries through into the second movement. The third, while strong where Elgar demands it, is often gentle. Huw Watkins is superb throughout. and the recorded balance between the players is excellent. 

Tim Homfray The Strad, Recommended Recording, July 2014

It’s their year of composition, 1917, that links the four works for violin and piano in Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Huw Watkins’ collection, all by composers who had either not been affected by the rise of modernism in the previous decade, or in Debussy’s case, who had played a crucial part in it but had taken his own music in a different direction. Each disc has a sharply contrasted pair of works. Sibelius’s Five Pieces is the least substantial here, charming and expertly written for what was his own instrument but is really just a sequence of salon miniatures which are followed by Respighi’s expansive sonata, full of rhapsodic violin lines and grandly rhetorical piano writing. Waley-Cohen and Watkins relish all that, but they seem more at home in the Debussy and Elgar works. The former is given a wonderfully subtle, introspective and touching performance; the latter is by turns typically bluff and elegiac, leaving just enough room for doubt in the optimism of its finale.

The Guardian, June 2014

Young Artist to Watch "Great playing from the very talented Tamsin Waley-Cogen. This really highlights the talent of the next generation of virtuosi." David Mellor, Classic FM

  1. Violin Sonata in G minor, L.140: I. Allegro vivo – Claude Debussy – 5.11
  2. Violin Sonata in G minor, L.140: II. Intermede: Fantastique et leger – Claude Debussy – 4.45
  3. Violin Sonata in G minor, L.140: III. Finale: Tres anime – Claude Debussy – 4.35
  4. Violin Sonata in B minor, P.110: I. Moderato – Ottorino Respighi – 9.57
  5. Violin Sonata in B minor, P.110: II. Andante espressivo – Ottorino Respighi – 8.59
  6. Violin Sonata in B minor, P.110: III. Passacaglia: Allegro moderato ma energico – Ottorino Respighi – 8.11
  7. Five Pieces for Violin & Piano, Op.81: I. Mazurka – Jean Sibelius – 2.44
  8. Five Pieces for Violin & Piano, Op.81: II. Rondino – allegretto grazioso – Jean Sibelius – 2.18
  9. Five Pieces for Violin & Piano, Op.81: III. Valse – Jean Sibelius – 3.46
  10. Five Pieces for Violin & Piano, Op.81: IV. Aubade – Jean Sibelius – 3.11
  11. Five Pieces for Violin & Piano, Op.81: V. Menuetto – Jean Sibelius – 4.50
  12. Violin Sonata in E minor, Op.82: I. Allegro: risoluto – Edward Elgar – 9.01
  13. Violin Sonata in E minor, Op.82: II. Romance – Edward Elgar – 8.16
  14. Violin Sonata in E minor, Op.82: III. Allegro non troppo – Edward Elgar – 9.22