Expressive Audio Record Review: Vaughan Williams Complete Works for Violin and Piano, by Midori Komachi and Simon Callaghan

This new recording of Vaughan Williams’ works for violin and piano is part of critically acclaimed violinist and composer Midori Komachi’s RVW150 project, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the renowned British composer by producing a range of audio, video, and written content and promoting it in both Britain and Japan. For those who don’t know, Komachi’s solo and ensemble performances have taken her around the globe, performing in some of the finest venues such as Wigmore Hall and the Tonhalle Zurich. As well as performing, Komachi is a fine musicologist, currently undertaking a PhD at Goldsmith’s, University of London, and is passionate about promoting British music internationally. For this recording, Komachi has worked with Steinway artist Simon Callaghan, a highly accomplished and experienced pianist who has worked with world-renowned names such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and who has a similar passion for 20th century British works. Well worth exploring is the liner booklet that accompanies this CD, including photos taken of the musicians at Leith Hill Place, RVW’s childhood home, and detailed research into each piece, as well as the music video of ‘Romance’ filmed at the same location. 

 

With an abundance of such impressive musical credits and experience between them, it is hardly surprising that the recordings on this CD exhibit fine individual musicianship, however what is particularly impressive is the way in which Komachi and Callaghan’s interpretations of the music compliment each other with perfect synergy. They move as one through the textures, emotions and intricacies of each piece, reacting to tempo, dynamic, and phrase markings with almost telepathic symmetry, producing a rare sound that is both accurate and researched, while having not lost any originality or sense of connection to the music. For those unfamiliar with chamber music, there is no conductor keeping the violin and piano in time, or guiding them in changes of speed or volume, rather the two musicians rely only on hours of rehearsal time and the ability to react instinctively to almost imperceptible changes in each other’s body language or playing; a skill only developed over years of practice and experience. 

 

The recording, too, held at Wyastone Studio in Wales, has captured the essence of Vaughan Williams’ writing in glorious detail. Close micing on the violin ensures the beautiful woody resonance in pianissimo moments is not lost, and the piano sounds robust and full-bodied across its vast range and endlessly varying timbres, without ever overpowering the recording. One of my favourite things about chamber music is the fact that the more subtle individual instrumental techniques and technical directions have the space to be heard, when so often they are lost in larger orchestral settings, and this recording is no exception. On a good HiFi system (for reference, I am listening to the CD on the Primare CD35 CD player, into the Primare I35 integrated amplifier, and out via Chord Shawline cable through a pair of Dali Oberon 7s floorstanding loudspeakers) the delicate harmonics in Romance and Pastoral shine through, introducing an ethereal, almost gossamer layer above the melody that is so much harder to capture in large ensembles. In a similar way, the unique tone colour of sur la touche (bowing near the finger board) is unmistakable in The Lark Ascending, in a testament to Komachi’s playing and the sound engineers. 

 

Vaughan Williams’ writing has always been fascinating from a musicological standpoint, not least due to the way in which his influences and world changed so dramatically living through both the first and second World Wars, and the repertoire on this disc is a remarkable example of just that. It is a real treat to listen to a CD that begins with Romance and Pastoral, written pre-war and after a period of study in France under Maurice Ravel, continuing to The Lark Ascending written as a reaction to the start of the First World War, and followed by the Sonata in A minor written much later in his life, post Second World War and after losing his wife. All pieces are unmistakably Vaughan Williams, but so different, and it is well worth reading Komachi’s insert notes to gain a fuller appreciation of each piece as you listen.

 

Midori Komachi and Simon Callaghan have created a unique recording of distinct character and accomplished musicianship, which is only enhanced by their unparalleled knowledge of, and respect for, the source material.

 

You can purchase the CD from the usual suspects, Presto, Europadisc, etc, or listen on all major streaming platforms. 

Watch the music video of Romance below:

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