American-Dutch violinist Stephen Waarts and Italian pianist Gabriele Carcano chose for their impressive Wigmore Hall debut a programme drawn across a period of forty years either side of the Great War which consciously forged divergent stylistic paths away from the Austro-Germanic tradition.
They began with Fauré’s First Violin Sonata (1875), one of a number of instrumental works from emerging French composers whose encouragement from the recently founded Société Nationale de Musique gave voice to Chausson, d’Indy and Belgian-born César Franck. Fauré’s Sonata emerged as a fine display piece, with Waarts combining technical accomplishment and cleanness of execution with strong, well-nourished playing that, if occasionally emphatic, demonstrated the work’s passionate intensity. The soaring lines, intimacy, agility and drama were all clearly delineated; dreamy nonchalance and ‘cat and mouse’ antics in the two inner movements and plenty of powerful singing tone in the expansive opening Allegro molto. If charm only fleetingly inhabited the Finale, much was made of its cross rhythms, Waarts and Carcano perfectly matched in their lively interpretation.
A strong Gallic influence permeates Szymanowski’s Greek-inspired Mythes (1915), its three movements saturated with an impressionistic aura, atmospheric and alluring. The delicate shimmering that begins ‘The Fountain of Arethusa’ could have been more ethereal, perhaps more flessibile where momentary pauses would have enhanced the music’s magic and sensuousness. But its watery evocation was generally well caught and there was no doubt about this violinist’s impeccable tuning and technique, fearlessly striding through the extensive challenges. Poetic shadows in ‘Narcissus’ (the Greek God who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and was transformed into a flower) brought sustained playing of sultry yearning, whereas ‘Dryads and Pan’ found the duo in sparkling form.
Then it was the spare, searching textures that open Bartók’s Second Violin Sonata (1922), its elliptical manner unfolding with all the mystery that never quite found a place in the Szymanowski. Combative and static gestures were integrated with assurance, violinist and pianist ever-alert to the first movement’s mood-swings, and keenly responsive to the feverish energy and folk stimulus of the second where admirable distinction was given to its contrasting percussive rhythm (with its battuto direction) and playful scampering. Waarts’s titanium-core tone was well-suited to this movement’s pyrotechnics with Carcano irreproachable.
To Bartók’s Second Rhapsody (1928) Waarts responded with firm playing that occasionally robbed the opening ‘Lassú’ of some of its whimsy. If there was more room for mischief in the ‘Friss’ there was no doubting its faultless execution. By way of an encore was an arrangement of ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir’, the first of Brahms’s Fünf Lieder, Opus 105.