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CD Review

A Tribute to Ralph Holmes

Ralph Holmes, violin
Peter Dickinson, piano
Heritage HTGCD228 69:45
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Bartók remastered from a 1977 Argo LP ZK36
Other works previously unreleased; from a BBC Radio Stoke recording at the Walter Moberly Hall, Keele University, 9 February 1981

Ralph Holmes (1937-1984) was – during his regrettably cut-short career – an outstanding and honored British violinist, with a wide repertoire, who played with major orchestras on at least two continents. A professor at the Royal Academy, he did these performances with a 1736 Stradivarius. Peter Dickinson is an accomplished composer and scholar as well as pianist, several of whose recordings I have previously reviewed here.

There are vast numbers of recordings of the Beethoven Spring Sonata, as it is one of his most lyrically appealing works. Even aside from the superb playing on this belatedly issued disc, however, the pleasurable ambience of the venue gives added value, in my opinion, by putting the listener right into the room. (In this regard it is comparable to a recording of the Bach solo violin sonatas made in an Icelandic church by Hlíf Sigurjónsdóttir (HBS 3).

But these performances are what really matter and they are splendid. The Beethoven begins in an arrestingly sweet (in the best sense) and intensely lyrical manner, and the Adagio molto espressivo is exquisite in both conception and execution.

Bartók had an affinity for Bach, as is notable in the forms of two movements in this sonata: Ciaconna and Fuga (as well as in his Mikrokosmos) not to mention the fact of the solo violin form. The (third) Melodia movement is played exquisitely. The Presto finale is outstanding in the range of dynamics from hushed to full-bodied.

The two-movements of the Bax sonata are lyrical, as one might expect. Both are beautiful. The violin and piano parts are conceived in more equal terms than in the Beethoven, in which the piano is somewhat dominant by design, although the violin there has plenty to do. Here the sounds of the two instruments are perfectly and satisfyingly interwoven. The short Delius Lullaby is peaceful and lovely.

Copyright © 2012, R. James Tobin