Even in this age of marathon multitaskers, British violinist Daniel Hope stands out. Along with his near ceaseless touring and trips to the recording studio, he makes time to shoot videos, write books (his third, written in German no less, was released this time last year) and act as an advocate for larger musical issues. On top of that he's an artistic partner at the third largest music festival in Germany, and for a few weeks each spring, Hope sets up shop in coastal Georgia, helping to direct the Savannah Music Festival. Is he a masochist, or just a modern day Renaissance man?
Hope not only co-curates Savannah's 16-day music party (which this year ranges from jazz, bluegrass and flamenco to classical, cabaret and Indian music) he performs in a good portion of it. For this concert, he invited friends to play an evening of French chamber music from the late 19th century.
Anchoring the concert is the Piano Quartet No.1 by Gabriel Fauré, a composer who was rarely appreciated in his day but who became an important influence on a younger generation of French composers. When Fauré wrote this quartet, he was in his mid-30s and scraping by as a choirmaster at Paris' Madeleine church and giving piano lessons in the suburbs. The piece is considered an early masterpiece of style and transparency. Pianist Emanuel Ax, writing about the quartet's jaunty second movement in the liner notes to his recording, says that "If there is such a thing as 19th-century 'cool,' this is the musical equivalent."
Hope yields the spotlight to Miami String Quartet cellist Keith Robinson for another piece by Fauré, the short but passionate Elégie, composed in 1880 and originally conceived as the slow movement of an abandoned cello sonata. It's another example of Fauré in his highly lyrical romantic mode.
To begin this concert, Hope plays music by one of Fauré's most brilliant students — Maurice Ravel. It's a violin sonata but, as Hope explained to the audience, it's not the "famous sonata" Ravel wrote in the 1920s. This is a little known sonata composed in 1897 and published posthumously.
"It was discovered only 100 years after his death and probably intended for the great violinist Georges Enescu, who played it with Ravel when they were both students," Hope said.
And then the piece disappeared. Ravel was very fussy about what he chose to publish and for some reason this sonata, even with its ardent, beautifully flowing and singing lines, didn't make the cut. Perhaps Ravel felt it too much under the spell of his teacher.
"But for us it's been an absolute thrill and discovery to find a piece by this great master," Hope said. "It has all of the elements of Ravel that we know and love." Hope dedicated the performance to his father and stepmother who were in the audience, visiting from France to hear their son play.
Maurice Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Piano (posthumous)
Gabriel Fauré: Elégie, Op. 24 (for cello and piano)
Gabriel Fauré: Quartet No. 1 in C minor for Piano and Strings, Op. 15
Daniel Hope, violin
Carla Maria Rodrigues, viola
Keith Robinson, cello
Simon Crawford-Phillips, piano