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Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)
Viola Sonata (1922) [18:09]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Allegretto; Pensiero; Allegro Appassionato [3:08; 4:04; 2:30]
Julius HARRISON (1885-1963)

Viola Sonata (1945) [20:49]
Martin Outram (viola)
Michael Jones (piano)
rec. 21-22 Dec 1992, Guildhall School of Music, London. AAD

Here are two rare and substantial viola sonatas by British composers. The works date from the years of the second British Musical Renaissance. The sonatas receive their world premiere recordings. The Baines and the Harrison are separated by three of Frank Bridge's easy-on-the-ear yet far from facile genre pieces. Everything is played with skill, insight and special sympathy. John Talbot and Mike Skeet are to be congratulated on securing a very agreeable, vivid and intimate sound.

The Bainton is from 1922 a year or so after the Bax Sonata. The music has some of the same Celtic curve, singing intensity and earnest romantic proclivity as the Bax. It was written in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne well before Bainton's departure to Australia in 1934. It was written for Tertis but lay unperformed until Bainton and his daughter Helen premiered it for Australian radio in 1942. This is one of his most powerful works and stands aptly alongside the visionary Third Symphony recorded in the year of the composer's death on the Brolga label by the Sydney SO and Sir Bernard Heinze.

After rather too brief a pause comes the Allegretto of Frank Bridge. It was left incomplete on Bridge’s death and was finished with undeniable musical rightness by Bridge authority, Paul Hindmarsh. The music is sweet and forward-moving. The other two pieces were published together in 1908 and are very much in the same romantic mould we recognise from the solos and genre miniatures of Glazunov and Fauré. The Pensiero is suitably pensive while the Allegro is a work of romantic exertion which Outram and Michael Jones deliver with abandon and due weight.

Julius Harrison, a Worcestershire man (he wrote a Worcestershire Suite for orchestra) from a musical family, has had little attention despite a fine book (Scolar Press) published during the 1990s . He studied with Bantock at Birmingham and made his ‘bread and butter’ working in the opera world of the 1920s and 1930s. He was close to Beecham and then became music director of the Hastings Municipal Orchestra. The onset of War in 1939 saw the orchestra disbanded and he then returned to his home county. There he wrote this Sonata, a major Mass and an equally epic Requiem (both for soli, choirs and orchestra) which were performed at the Three Choirs. There is also a very fine Housman-inflected Rhapsody for violin and orchestra called Bredon Hill. He completed the present three movement Viola Sonata in 1945 - the same year as the much darker nightmare-Sonata by Arthur Benjamin . It is by no means a simple pastoral soul's outpouring. There is a macabre vision to follow in the allegro energico which suggests a phantasm but nothing like as grim as the threat in Bridge's Piano Sonata or Oration yet is still to be experienced and exorcised. The horror of passages in Dyson's Quo Vadis might be a reasonable parallel to the mood. The middle movement is an andante e cantabile sempre which Michael Jones’ notes link with Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending. It is a sound comparison. This is certainly reflective and pastoral ecstatic writing if without the almost erotic charge Howells' writing in this idiom can bring. The mood is one of preciously held stillness. A less louring yet still energetic mood grips the final allegro vivace.

We will not get a firm handle on Bainton's achievement until we have recordings of the Third Symphony (or a reissue of the ancient Brolga LP on CD - come on Symposium!). As for Harrison his major choral works including the Requiem of Archangels - a work setting a seal of the tragedy of the Great War - await recording. This CD at least opens a valuable door onto two works whose strengths do not merit the neglect they have had meted out to them.

Short playing time betrays the recordings' origin. They were first issued on cassette in the 1980s. This CD is extremely valuable, and not in any mere archival sense, for here are two resolutely strong and poetic sonatas receiving their world premieres. They represent writing and playing of a very high order bursting the bounds of conventionality. Listeners interested in the era should get this disc and it is certainly a de rigueur purchase for open-minded violists.

Rob Barnett

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