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The first half of the programme featured other recent works, including the Songs from the Chinese for Soprano and Guitar, composed as a birthday gift for the composer's wife earlier in the year. Vivienne Bellos, accompanied with delicacy by Stewart French, brought out the exquisite colours and moods of the love songs, in which the intimate tone is conveyed through sparse accompaniments and high vocal lines that make telling use of offbeat melismas and silences. The guitar fills the silence in 'A Soldier Departs', where the 'girl gets down from her loom so emotional she cannot speak'. The bold motoric ostinato in 'True Love Harmonies' made the delicate dissonance in the slow 'A Sweet Thought' all the more compelling, and the 'flirtatious strings' that conclude 'Shy Love' were conveyed in the cyclic recall of the initial guitar patterns of the work. The two other works performed showed a darker, searching side of Dawes' subject matter and idiom. Five Songs from I never saw another butterfly, a cycle composed to children's poetry from Terezin, were sung with touching characterisation by the twelve-year-old Michael Beder with the composer at the piano. (The present writer was the pianist in the world première in January 2005.) The harrowing, yet moving poetry describing the impressions of Jewish children separated from their families in the Nazi prison city, is set to poignant and unusually beautiful music by Dawes, ever responsive to the dramatic possibilities of the text and the constraints of young performers.

A similarly inward mood was evoked in the Elegie for Violin and Piano of 1988, a memorial to the composer's mother, performed here with expressive richness by Serena Leader and Gordon Back (who had given the Wigmore Hall première), its insistent melodic fragment subjected to extensive development and dramatization in the faster, angrier middle section. The duo returned at the end of the evening to give the world première of the Sonata for Violin (2005), a substantial work, by and large in a classical format yet with a central slow movement that was quite beautiful, dreamy, free and improvisatory in spirit. Here Dawes' harmonic idiom loosened up, moving away from triadic constraints through to richer, flowing sonorities, which were evocatively portrayed by Serena Leader partnered with subtle nuance by Gordon Back. A taut clear-cut sonata design in the first movement displayed characteristic Dawesian harmony, its luminous chordal second subject introduced by the piano as a contrast to the ostinato coloured lyrical first subject. There was an original touch also to the finale, the Rondo theme of which was assigned to solo violin, a rhythmic dance suggesting Chassidic folklore and the caustic syncopated textures of Shostakovich, Prokofiev or Stravinsky. The piano's resonant episodes were all the more lyrical in effect, and the whole movement provided an aptly upbeat flourish to a well-balanced and varied evening of stimulating musical nourishment.

Copyright © 12 October 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


There will be another chance to enjoy the violin and piano duo of Serena Leader and Gordon Back at London's Wigmore Hall on 24 March 2007.

Built in 1582, Lauderdale House is an arts and education centre based in Waterlow Park, London UK, with a rich programme of performances, workshops, exhibitions and outreach projects.

Previous M&V articles about London-based composer Julian Dawes include The music of Julian Dawes, An individual voice, Medieval Hebrew and Songs of Ashes. For further information, please visit the composer's website.

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