Founded in 1973, this was the first of Cameo’s classical recordings recorded at Indigo Sound Studios, Manchester with Bob Auger engineering the sessions. This recording has now been restored by Klassic Haus in the USA. The first of the list of Nimbus Cameo Classics releases for February 2014, Cameo now concentrates on recording the works of neglected British and Jewish German composers.
Michael Davis began to play the violin under the guidance of his father Eric, a Hallé Orchestra principal. Awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, he continued his training with Hugh Bean, then leader of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Another scholarship enabled him to study with the legendary violinist, Henryk Szeryng. In 1967 he was invited by Sir John Barbirolli to become associate leader, and then co-leader of the Hallé Orchestra. He was leader of the London Symphony Orchestra during the 1980s, and then leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra during the 1990s.
Rayson Whalley joined the Hallé Orchestra as pianist and percussionist in 1948, enjoying most of the Barbirolli era. He assisted Sir John with many premiere performances and played, at sight, the score of Sinfonia Antarctica to its composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir John. He also suggested the orchestral effects and colours that the composer often referred to as ‘that incredible feat’.
In the Allegro tranquillo of Walton’s Violin Sonata Michael Davis has a lovely singing tone. Both Davis and Whalley bring a real flow to the music, responding to all the sudden mood changes. There is much passion to Davis’ playing and both of these artists bring out Walton’s bittersweet lyricism. There are some exquisitely hushed passages towards the end.
In the slow opening of the Variazioni, Davis again draws out all the melancholy passion of Walton. There are some lovely textures, timbres and rhythms as Davis works his way through the seven variations with Whalley providing such a sensitive accompaniment. This sonata has some of the technical challenges of Walton’s concerto to which both artists respond magnificently right up to the dynamic coda.
Dating from around 1951, Walton’s Two Pieces for Violin and Piano opens with a Canzonetta that has a lovely little lilting theme, beautifully captured by these two players. The sparkling Scherzetto receives some spectacular violin playing with spot on accompaniment from Whalley. These two play so well together.
Davis has a glorious tone as the Allegro vivo of Debussy’s Violin Sonata opens, with some brilliant following passages. There is also much fine playing from Whalley, beautifully fluent. Their fine playing is full of passion in the coda. The light and skittish Intermede (fantasque et léger) again shows how well these artists work together. The Final brings lovely flourishes and swirls of sound with Davis and Whalley giving virtuosic performances, whilst never missing any of Debussy’s thoughtful, melancholic moments.
Finally, these two give us Ravel’s Piece en forme d’Habanera, developed from a song – Vocalise en forme d’Habanera – a piece I had not heard before. It is full of Iberian languor and atmosphere. Whalley’s playing captures those feelings perfectly whilst Davis spins a lovely melody. This is a lovely end to a fine disc.
It is good to have restored this recording of two eminent British musicians in such fine performances. The recording is not up to the best modern standards, a little resonant with an occasionally edgy string tone, but is otherwise fine and clear.