An ambitious project proves scintillating in parts

Madeleine Mitchell: Violin Conversations

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: An ambitious project proves scintillating in parts

Musicians: Madeleine Mitchell (violin) Andrew Ball, Howard Blake, Martin Butler, Nigel Clayton, Wendy Hiscocks, Ian Pace, Errollyn Wallen (pianos)

Works: Music by Blake, Butler, Blackford, Hiscocks, Horovitz, Knehans, Malone, Musgrave, Rawsthorne and Wallen

Catalogue number: NAXOS 8.574560

Madeleine Mitchell outlines in the booklet for this release the connections between the composers within, also noting the dialogues that result from four of them appearing as accompanists. It’s not the most solid of themes but, with eight premiere recordings across eleven pieces, it’s a bold offering.

It opens with Rawsthorne’s neglected 1958 Violin Sonata (a 1996 BBC recording with Mitchell partnered by Andrew Ball). Together the players strongly characterise the sonata’s four movements, by turn austere, enigmatic, extrovert and mystical. This is the most winning performance on the disc, and the work’s flavour of British modernism opens a line of enquiry that ends with Thea Musgrave’s much more abstract Colloquy (1960) – a performance that is precise but never brittle, and which features a natural interplay with pianist Ian Pace. For me, the final substantial piece, Martin Butler’s Barcarolles (2020), sounds less distinctive and more expressively limited.

Among the sprinkling of shorter pieces are Kevin Malone’s Your Call Is Important to Us, layering recordings of automated customer-service menu-option voices with a tense violin line. Joseph Horovitz’s Jewish-inflected Dybbuk Melody (1980) is both prayerful and restless, though the playing in Howard Blake’s The Ice Princess and the Snowman (2018) is short on magic. Overall, the disc – like many conversations – has points of real interest, even if it may not be riveting from beginning to end.