Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

William ALWYN
Rhapsody for piano quartet (1938)
Fantasy-Sonata for clarinet and piano (1943)
Rhapsody for piano (1915)
Phantasie for piano trio (1906)
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1917)
Jeffery WILSON
Elegy for clarinet, cello and piano (1988)
The Holywell Ensemble (Margaret Ozanne (piano); Kate Bailey (violin); Daniel Lyness (viola); Spike Wilson (cello); Peter Nichols (clarinet))
rec, Silk Hall, Radley College, 25-26 Aug 1994

This is a follow-up to the Holywell Ensemble's extremely successful album (BML 003) of chamber music by Howells and Bridge in 1993. The combination of pieces worked and works very well. The Alwyn is an earlyish piece (1938) which is impressionistic in a Gallophile way with the central episode being more Ravel than Debussy. The outer sections of this 10 minute essay are athletic in the manner of his Concerto Grosso No. 1 but there are figurations that suggest Bax including some filigree work that might indicate acquaintance with the Bax's Winter Legends. The opening pages have the pungent stamp of the Howells' Piano Quartet though there the similarity halts.

'Fantasy' and 'Rhapsody' are the order of the day with this collection. Even the Howells Sonata began life as a W W Cobbett-style Phantasy Sonata. The Ireland Clarinet work is well known and multiply recorded. Peter Nichols gives a fine account and if you get to know the work in this version you will be in good hands. However, for this listener, the version by John Denman and Paula Fan on another BML disc is to be preferred. Nichols is a shading more reedy than Denman's fulsome tone.

Howells is clearly something of a speciality for the Holywell Ensemble. BML 003 includes his Piano Quartet and Clarinet Sonata alongside two works by Frank Bridge. The First Violin Sonata is up against superior competition from Hyperion's team of Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards. Barritt is more secure of intonation in a work whose Delian melisma needs such security. Kate Bailey's violin part lacks nothing in passion though and the piano role taken by Margaret Ozanne evinces great concentration and a thorough grounding in Howells' almost religious sense of meditation. In this area however I must commend the Hyperion (CDA66665) also because it sports the other two violin sonatas in a cogently assembled anthology.

Hearing Margaret Ozanne tackle the crystal and granite song and caprice of Ireland's Rhapsody for solo piano whisks me back thirty years to a friend's basement flat in Paignton where I first made the acquaintance of these works in the mono Lyrita recordings (not by the much vaunted Eric Parkin) but in the hands of Alan Rowlands. Rowlands has, most regrettably, been eclipsed (only in public reputation) by Parkin. Ozanne tackles the awkward piano writing with naturalness. Rhapsody has a tumultuous clangour which takes something from the slaughter year (1915) in which it was written. Ireland fans must hear this.

Jeffery Wilson studied for a while with Howells and this might well account for the rounded flow of this Elegy (cello, clarinet and piano) in memory of the composer's father who died in 1988 but Bach too is an unmistakable presence. Affecting sincere music.

Ireland's Phantasie Trio (Cobbett-inspired again) is as Brahmsian as his only marginally less successful and similarly Brahmsian Octet. It is awash in Dvorákian melos as well as all the apparatus of the grand manner of Brahms. The work is given a most convincing performance and the recording is commandingly strong.

A successfully variegated collection.

Rob Barnett


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