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New colours in old sound worlds: the Portuguese duo, Bruno Monteiro & João Paulo Santos in Elgar, Debussy, Ravel & more

New colours in old sound worlds: the Portuguese duo, Bruno Monteiro & João Paulo Santos in Elgar, Debussy, Ravel & more
New colours in old sound worlds: the Portuguese duo, Bruno Monteiro & João Paulo Santos in Elgar, Debussy, Ravel & more
Music for violin and piano: Elgar, Debussy, Luíz Barbosa, Ivan Moody, Ravel; Bruno Monteiro, João Paulo Santos; Etcetera

Music for violin and piano: Elgar, Debussy, Luíz Barbosa, Ivan Moody, Ravel; Bruno Monteiro, João Paulo Santos; Etcetera
Reviewed 17 June 2024

Four early 20th-century works for violin and piano alongside a more recent one in a wonderfully wide-ranging recital from the Portuguese duo who find all sorts of new colours in Elgar and give a certain style to Ravel

The latest disc from Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro and pianist João Paulo Santos on Etcetera, brings together four works for violin and piano, all written in the first twenty-five years of the century, the violin sonatas by Elgar and Debussy, the Romance for Violin and Piano by Luíz Barbosa and Ravel’s Tzigane, alongside these Monteiro has included Ascent for Violin and Piano by contemporary composer Ivan Moody.

Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos have a fondness for both the highways and byways of the romantic repertoire. I last reviewed their recording of the piano trios of Ernest Chausson and Eugene Ysaÿe and they have also given us a disc of violin sonatas by Luís de Freitas Branco, Maurice Ravel, and Heitor Villa-Lobos [see my review].

On this disc we begin with Elgar’s Violin Sonata, one of the group of late chamber works he wrote in 1918, all remarkably different in their approach to music. Listening to Monteiro and Paulo Santos, you are reminded that Elgar had a significant reputation amongst his European contemporaries, his music was seen as European. The opening movement seems, at times, almost by a different composer as Monteiro and Paulo Santos bring out other resonances. This is tempestuous passionate music, with Monteiro playing with richly vibrant tone and a use of portamento which brings a new quality to the music. This continues in the lovely slow movement, where Monteiro’s tone is richly dark and the two give the opening an, at times, gypsy-ish quality. There is nobilmente and passion, but this is Elgar seen from abroad, and wonderful it is too. The finale, poised and beautifully phrased, is perhaps the most conventionally English-sounding of the three. 

Debussy’s Violin Sonata has a similar place to Elgar’s in that it is from a group of late chamber works by a composer who was dying and would write little more (Elgar simply retreated into silence). The tone and approach is the same but Monteiro also gives a somewhat veiled quality to the opening, and phrases with beautiful poise. The slow movement begins with an intense, rhapsodic section, developing into something vivid and highly coloured. Perhaps not quite as léger as might have been imagined yet definitely fantasque. It was in this movement that I noticed the recording’s acoustic the most, as there is lots of space around the musicians, Monteiro’s violin is heard distinctly in a place with an acoustic, rather than being closely miked with almost no sense of background. We’re back in rhapsody land with the opening of the final movement, yet also the piano hints at exotic elements, and then the two allow the movement’s vivid busyness to build little by little until a fine climax.

Luíz Barbosa was a great violinist, born and died in Lisbon. His only known composition is his Romance. Actually rather a salon-ish piece, Monteiro and Santos give it such a committed, richly passionate performance full of vibrant tone and characterful playing, that they knock it into a different world and the three and half minute work definitely makes a good bridge to the Ravel.

Ascent for violin and piano is one of Ivan Moody’s final works, written in 2020 during the pandemic and dedicated to a colleague who passed away at the time. An unusual polymath, according to his obituary in the Gramophone, “Moody held various academic posts, including Professor of Church Music at the University of Eastern Finland from 2012 to 2014, and worked extensively as a conductor. A onetime member of the choir of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London, he subsequently served as cantor in both Greek and Bulgarian parishes in Lisbon. In 2007 he was ordained to the priesthood, becoming rector of the Serbian Orthodox Parish of the Transfiguration in Estoril, Portugal.

Monteiro and Santos worked with Moody on the piece, giving its public premiere in 2021. It is rather freely rhapsodic yet ethereal. The piano part, largely supportive, does not really go anywhere, it simply anchors things, allowing Monteiro’s violin to float free in a wonderful way. Moody died, prematurely after a long illness, in Lisbon just twelve days after this recording was made.

Ravel wrote Tzigane for the Hungarian violinist, Jelly d’Aranyi. She had terrific technique, allied to her exotic (at the time) ancestry and whilst Hungarian music is far far more than just gypsy violins, it was these that Ravel channelled for Tzigane. D’Aranyi was quite a performer, Bartok’s two violin sonatas were dedicated to her and the two performed them in London in the early 1920s, RVW dedicated his violin concerto to her and Holst wrote his double concerto for her and her sister! And that’s not to mention the seances and rediscovery of the Schumann Violin Concerto.

Full disclosure, I do think that Tzigane really needs the orchestra (including the all important harp) to work best. But Monteiro is glorious in the long unaccompanied rhapsodic introduction, he really leans into dark gypsy-ish tones, managing to make something almost mysterious and threatening, and the main section has that real folk-ish feel. There is nothing light and airy here, all is dark and heavy. As with the Barbosa, the full-blooded approach here moves the work well out of the salon.

I enjoyed this recital immensely, and it surprised me in that Monteiro and Santos managed to bring either a new range of colour and timbre to the pieces, or played familiar music with such intensity that it ceased to be familiar.

Edward Elgar (1857-1934) – Sonata for Violin and Piano
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) – Sonata for Violin and Piano
Luíz Barbosa (1887-1952) – Romance for Violin and Piano
Ivan Moody (1962-2024) – Ascent for Violin and Piano
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) – Tzigane, Rapsodie de Concert for Violin and Piano
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
João Paulo Santos (piano)
Recorded 5-7 January 2024, Auditório Caixa Geral de Depósitos, ISEG Lisbon, Portugal
ETCETERA KTC 1822 1CD [68:02]

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