There was never a dull moment with the effervescent duo of Chloë Hanslip and Danny Driver in a fascinating and entertaining programme inspired by Marcel Proust. From Beethoven, who Proust idealised, to Saint-Saëns, who was the teacher of his lover Reynaldo Hahn, whose Nocturne was also played.

Chloë Hanslip © Benjamin Ealovega
Chloë Hanslip
© Benjamin Ealovega

The evening fittingly kicked off with the most pastoral of all Beethoven’s chamber works, the Violin Sonata no. 10 in G major, Op.96. A work of deceptive simplicity, it is an example of the composer in a mood of unfettered happiness, an atmosphere unique to the composer. Hanslip and Driver found just the right level of intimacy and easy dialogue, with clarity of delivery. In the slow movement Hanslip produced the most ravishing of tones and in the Scherzo and finale, lightness of touch and wit were the order of the day.

From the rarefied idyll of the Beethoven we moved to the quixotic world of the Debussy Violin Sonata, a notoriously difficult piece to bring off due to its fast-moving changes of tempi and mood. To achieve a satisfying balance, the performers need to emphasis each aspect without letting any of them dominate the structure as a whole. Here there was a pull towards the more ethereal aspects of the score, but the sharply dramatic moments were given their full weight. The result was a thrilling and rounded performance.

After the interval the duo performed the rarely-heard Hahn Nocturne, a work brimming full of luscious themes clearly influenced by the composer’s teacher Massenet, with a touch of Franck. After the clear water of the Debussy this proved to be a more tipsy brew, but given the champagne treatment here – particularly from Hanslip whose tone was truly lustrous.

The two solo piano Barcarolles by Fauré that followed certainly restored the gravitas to the occasion. Barcarolle no. 4 in A flat major, Op.44 is a sunny work still dominated by the seductiveness of the composer’s early style. This was still the Fauré who had enchanted Proust and Hahn with his youthful glamour. However, by the time he wrote Barcarolle no. 5 in F sharp minor, Op.66 the intensity that increasingly characterises his later works is already apparent, making for a more complex piece full of unexpected modulations and cumulative passage work. Driver proved to be an ideal interpreter of these beautiful but technically and atmospherically difficult works, finding the just right balance between textural clarity and Romantic ardour.

The Violin sonata no. 1 in D minor, Op.75 by Saint-Saëns rounded off the evening with a bang. Surely one of the great Romantic pieces in the form, on a par with the Franck, Fauré and Brahms works, its relative neglect is mystery. Thematically brilliant in every movement, it has fire and depth in the first, melting whimsy in the slow movement, wit and grace in the Scherzo and virtuosic intensity in the finale. Hanslip and Driver certainly made the strongest possible case for it. A massively persuasive variety of tone and technical brilliance from Hanslip left no musical stone unturned. Likewise, Driver made the showy piano part seem effortless and a brilliant foil to the violin part. In the almost hysterically fast tutti playing at the end of the finale, both players were so clearly in tune with each other in every way and this marvellous concert was rounded off in the most satisfying fashion.