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Alan RAWSTHORNE Piano Quintet, Concertante for violin and piano,Trio for piano, violin and cello, Viola sonata, Cello sonata  Rogeri Trio, John McCabe (piano), Mark Messenger, (violin) Helen Roberts (viola), Martin Outram  (viola), Julian Rolton (piano)   Naxos 8.554352
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With the release of this CD, the whole of Rawsthorne's published chamber and instrumental music becomes available, on a variety of CD labels. Three of the five works in the compilation appear on CD for the first time and one, the Viola Sonata, is a world première recording. The works span the whole of Rawsthorne's composing life. The performances are built around the Rogeri Trio, who are joined by colleagues, as the various ensembles require.

Quintet for Piano and Strings (1968) - Nadia Myerscough and Mark Messenger (violins), Helen Roberts (viola), Peter Adams ('cello) and John McCabe (piano).

This provides a striking opening to the disc. The first bars presage the drama which characterises most of the music on the CD and the impeccable ensemble in what is to follow. Rawsthorne had a keen dramatic sense, which is heightened by the narrative quality of his writing - these characteristics were established early in life, as his juvenile writings, plays, prose and poetry, disclose.

The Quintet is the latest of the pieces on the disc yet, by making full and robust use at the resources available, it does not share the austerity of some other works of this period, rather it looks back to the Quintet for piano and winds of 1964. The drama derives from the use of contrasts of dynamics and tempi and the imaginative opportunities which the basic, terse, motivic and harmonic materials afford. This is an authoritative performance, first because John McCabe participated in the première, before which he had the benefit of the composer's direction on matters of interpretative detail, secondly on account of the committed playing. Throughout the composer's indications in the score are faithfully realised, ensuring balance and clarity of argument, structure and texture.

This is not easy music, but with the benefit of repeated hearings, which this CD now affords, the integrity of the writing will be revealed to the assiduous listener. One cannot imagine better advocates for the work and its composer.

Concertante for Violin and piano (1937) - Nadia Myerscough (violin) and Yoshiko Endo (piano).

This was Rawsthorne's first published composition, one which drew substantially on two early attempts to write a violin sonata. The piece is in ternary form, bravura outer sections enclosing a slow and ruminative episode. The work discloses that the composer's distinctive language was already well on the way to being established.

This is an impressive recital piece which receives a splendid performance. The exacting demands placed on both piano and violin are fully met. The duo demonstrate their understanding of the idiom and make their convincing best of the opportunities the composer provides. Though a comparatively early piece the composer thought it worthy of a place in his oeuvre since he permitted its re-publication in 1968 after making minor revisions.

Trio for piano, violin and 'cello (1962) - The Rogeri Trio (Yashiko Endo [piano], Nadia Myerscough [violin]. Peter Adams ['cello]).

The three movements, Introduction, Capriccio and Theme and Variations, play without a break. Rawsthorne wrote a note which discloses that "much of the material is based on a phrase of six notes, with its inversion. This is used to fashion both melody and harmony, in various manipulations, and is often only hinted at merely by implication". Whilst this may appear somewhat academic, austere and self-limiting, it is belied in performance. The composer employs familiar, well-tried and contrasting devices, which he reworks imaginatively, the instrumental colour combinations being inspired rather than constricted by the limitations of the trio combination.The theme of the Theme and Variations is an example of this, where the presentation of the diatonic theme is made with textural lucidity and simplicity conjured from the most basic use of the instruments.

Prior to the recording the Rogeris had this piece well established in their repertoire, including a BBC broadcast, and it is good to have the accumulated benefits of that experience preserved here in an exemplary performance.

Viola Sonata (1937) - Martin Outram (viola) and Julian Rolton (piano).

Sonatas for viola are few, the most notable twentieth contributor to the genre being Hindemith with his four sonatas. Hearing the opening bars of this Sonata might lead one to believe that this is a fifth of the same provenance, such is the pungent harmony and assured declamation in the first bars. This is soon dispelled by the early emergence of Rawsthorne s unmistakable fingerprints. The first movement Allegro, which follows the introduction is, apart from an slower interlude, an earnest toccata. The intense mood is followed through into the following scherzo, almost in thee character of a perpetuum mobile, (an early use of his favoured tarantella-like treatment) embedded within which are contrasting interludes. The Adagio third movement is tenebrous, containing at its heart a lamentatory motif which was to be recalled when Rawsthorne composed his deeply-felt Elegiac Rhapsody in 1964 marking the death of his friend, the poet Louis MacNeice. The final Rondo reminds one again of Hindemith, though the flexible tonality of the theme is very true to Rawsthorne and characteristic of much that was to follow in this vein in subsequent year. Here the mood contrasts with what has gone before, an amiable emergence into the light after so much dark inwardness and intensity.

The performers, like the Rogeris, had this work in their repertoire well before the recording, being advocates for the piece at such gatherings as the Viola Congresses and Festivals. The work has difficulties for both performers, not least intonation for the violist and, together, of ensemble. These do not intrude upon this assured performance, one which should encourage performers and promoters to programme it.

The idiomatic writing for both instruments derives from Rawsthorne's study of both piano and 'cello. This Sonata embraces a wide range of emotions within its fifteen minute span, the most predominant being lyrical. The three movements, which make up its overall structure, are far from self-contained. Each section of the work shares common materials, which are so distinctive as to permit the ear to discern without difficulty the path and ingenuity of their development. Any performance needs a wholehearted approach and utilization of the many expressive opportunities afforded to both players. These qualities are to be found here in abundance, notably the vocal quality of the 'cello writing which, especially in the tenor register, is well realised. The soloists clearly listen to each other and maintain a decorous balance, except in one or two of the fortissimo declamatory passages where the 'cello is momentarily overlaid; a matter of recording balance as much as anything, but this does not detract from a very satisfying performance.

The acoustic of St. Martin's Church, East Woodhay, is on the dry side, yet perhaps appropriate for the larger ensemble pieces, where the detail of the polyphonic writing needs to be clearly audible. This disc is a highly valuable and accessible addition to the growing Rawsthorne discography at bargain price.


John Belcher

John Belcher is chairman of the Rawsthorne Trust


John Belcher

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