The sonata is in three movements: Largo Appassionato – Presto – Allegro con fuoco, and was written while Sainsbury was a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. It has been performed by Oliver Lewis and Jeremy Filsell at Conway Hall, London, and Vicar’s Hall, Windsor Castle; and by Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and the Barber Fine Arts Institute, Birmingham.
Rupert Marshall-Luck has written the following program note for the Sonata:
Lionel Sainsbury’s Violin Sonata was written in 1979 and, in the composer’s own words, is “one of the few of my early works which I still recognise!” The harmonic language of the Sonata is concerned throughout with the juxtaposition of semitones and their inversion, diminished octaves; and this formal unification is presented within an emotionally charged context which results in a highly compelling and memorable work.
The Sonata’s passionate tone is clear from the very outset, as the opening upward surges in the piano herald the violin’s first charged entry. The importance of the major-minor tension is immediately apparent, too: it follows the opening trill, adding a vigorous impetus to the phrase that follows; a few bars later, however, a chromatic descent imparts a character of anguished longing, and this yearning quality prevails increasingly, building to a more wide-ranging theme of fervent intensity. After a short-lived, though burningly concentrated climax, the listener is swept into an atmosphere of other-worldly quality, in which the ethereal murmurings of the piano are overlaid with gently-winding lines in the violin. However, the music soon assumes a more brooding, almost menacing character; thereafter gathering in momentum and density with a further fortissimo climax of inexorable passion. A cadenza-like coda leads to a tense and subdued close.
A short, impetuous Scherzo follows, in which lightning-like motifs spark between the two instruments. The third movement, Allegro con fuoco, is characterised by a fiery energy, only twice giving way to brief lyrical passages. The semitonal clashes however, remain ubiquitous, the strength of their linear dissonance driving the music relentlessly forward. The work’s coda is a veritable powerhouse: quavers, hammered out in the piano, are set against ionised semiquavers in the violin, which crackle with vigour; and the Sonata ends with an explosive unison assertion.
© Rupert Marshall-Luck, 2010