Friday 1 November 2013

First rate performances of chamber works by Michele Esposito from Mia Cooper (violin), William Butt (cello) and Lance Coburn (piano) on a new release from Champs Hill Records

Michele Esposito (1855-1929) was born at Castellamare di Stabia, near Sorrento, Italy and studied at the Music Conservatory in Naples as a piano pupil of Beniamino Cesi (1845-1907) himself a pupil of Thalberg. He also studied composition under Paolo Serrao (1830-1907). In 1879 he married Natalia Klebnikoff (1857-1944), a native of St Petersburg whom he met in Naples. After his studies he moved to Paris before moving on to Dublin where, in 1882, he became Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, remaining there for more than forty years. He was very active in Dublin, founding the chamber series at the Royal Dublin Society in 1886 and founding and directing the Dublin Orchestral Society, as well as being active as pianist, concert promoter and adjudicator at musical competitions.

Esposito conducted concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra on a visit by them to Ireland and performed his piano concerto with them under the baton of Hamilton Harty. In 1897, Esposito conducted the Moscow premiere of Modest Mussorgsky's opera Khovanshchina with the Russian Private Opera at the Solodovnikov Theatre and, later that year, conducted the world premiere of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Sadko again with the Russian Private Opera at the Solodovnikov Theatre. After his retirement in 1928 he returned to Italy, dying in Florence in 1929.

As a composer, Esposito’s works include two one Act operas, The Tinker and the Fairy and The Post Bag, a cantata for soli, chorus and orchestra Deirdre, orchestral works including an Irish Symphony, Op. 50 (1902), Poem for orchestra, Op. 44 (1899), an Irish Suite for orchestra, Op. 55 and a Neapolitan Suite for orchestra, numerous solo piano works, songs and folk-song arrangements and chamber works including a String Quartet in D, Op. 33 and a String Quartet in C minor, Op. 60.

Of his chamber works Esposito also wrote a Sonata in G for violin and piano, Op. 32, a Sonata in E minor for violin and piano, Op. 46, a Sonata for violin and piano, Op. 67 and a Sonata in D for cello and piano, Op. 43 all of which feature on a new release from Champs Hill Records played by Mia Cooper (violin) , William Butt (cello) and Lance Coburn (piano) .

Although his music is rooted in the late-nineteenth-century romantic tradition, Esposito was influenced by Irish folk-song and dance, something which occasionally seeps into his music.

Esposito’s Sonata for violin and piano in G major, Op.32 was dedicated to Guido Papini (1847-1912), who was also a professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, teaching violin. An expansive melody opens the Moderato with the violin and piano weaving around each other and reflecting the theme before intensifying and building to a fine climax before a lovely quiet coda.

The piano opens the Lento before the violin joins in a simple melody. The music tries to become more intense but falls back, nevertheless the greater emotional content has its way, subtly pushing forward until reaching a climax before quietening to a hushed coda with the violin concluding on a high E so beautifully played by Mia Cooper.

A lively dance like theme opens the Allegro vivace finale, with some terrific playing from both Mia Cooper and Lance Coburn. The second subject is more lyrical and flowing before the piano tentatively leads the music back to the lively opening theme with more, fine playing as it leads to a frantic coda. There is never a dull moment in this work, so well played by these artists.

The Sonata for violin and piano in E minor, Op.46 gained a prize from La Société Nouvelle when played in Paris, in 1907. The Allegro moderato opens with a flourish from both players, before a rather intricate melody is introduced, with many little motifs for both instruments. When the second subject arrives it is more lyrical before Esposito develops all the material. The second subject again appears and the music broadens to a passionate coda. This is certainly a more complex construction than the earlier violin sonata.

Pizzicato strumming from the violin, against a little melody piano motif, opens the Andantino. Soon the violin plays the theme against piano accompaniment leading to a more flowing passage. As the music develops, the violin produces some strident cords leading to a darkening of tone. However, the melodic theme returns. Staccato chords from the piano lead to the return of strumming from the violin to end this movement.

An attractive melody opens the final movement, marked Confuoco. Slowly the music builds becoming faster before falling to a slower section, quite romantic in feel. This leads to a restatement of the opening theme that develops before the slower second subject re-appears leading to a sparkling coda. Both artists seem to be really inside this fine music.

Esposito’s Sonata for violin and piano in A major, Op.67 is a late work, dating from 1920/21 and dedicated to the Irish conductor/composer Hamilton Harty (later Sir Hamilton Harty). Unlike the first two violin sonatas, this work is in four movements. The Affettuosamente opens with a lilting melody, quite wistfully romantic in nature; this eventually giving way to a faster theme built on the opening three note motif to form a rhythmic, dramatic section that hurtles forward. After a climax the music becomes slower and tentative before a more passionate version of the opening theme appears leading to a calm coda. This is rather a sprawling first movement but, nevertheless, is full of interesting ideas.

The Allegretto moderato opens as a gentle waltz but soon becomes enlivened as the violin and piano develop the theme. There are some lovely ideas here with some unusual piano writing against which the violin moves around before ending gently.

The Andante cantabile is more conventional, though, as it develops, it often has a bittersweet feel as it becomes more earnest. With the Allegretto grazioso the violin introduces an attractive theme with piano accompaniment before the theme is given to the piano. The second subject is introduced with a five note motif before the music develops quite passionately leading to the coda.

These are first rate performances from Mia Cooper and Lance Coburn.

In 1899, Esposito’s Sonata for cello and piano, Op.43 also won a prize, this time from the London Incorporated Society of Musicians. A deep, rich motif on the cello opens the Allegro moderato, repeated by the piano, leading to a rich melody. A faster, rhythmic second subject appears with William Butt producing some deep glowing cello sounds. After a re-appearance of the opening motif, a quiet passage with a brief cello solo leads to a romantic section full of stirring piano writing and a lovely cello part, before leading to the coda that quietly creeps to an end.

For the first time on this disc a definite Celtic lilt in the form of a Scotch snap is introduced by the cello as the Lento opens. This unusual movement moves between the rhythmic Scottish snap and a longer melody. There is a central melody that is allowed to flow with some beautiful cello playing from Butt and a lovely piano accompaniment. The Celtic melody slowly re-appears, deep on the cello, before rising with pizzicato notes to reveal the snap motif more fully and rhythmically before falling to end quietly.

The Allegro moderato has a confident swaying melody for cello and piano that is developed and becomes more passionate. There is a short central quiet section for piano before the drama returns, eventually leading to a quiet coda.

It is a pity that there are not more recordings of Esposito’s attractive music. Míċeál O'Rourke has recorded Esposito’s piano works for Chandos but on the evidence of these sonatas it would be good to hear some of his orchestral works.

This excellent disc, well recorded in the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, England has excellent notes by Malcolm MacDonald. With performances that couldn’t be bettered this new release is well worth investigating.

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