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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Chamber Music and Songs
Rhapsody for piano quartet (1938) [9:20]
Sonata-Impromptu for violin and viola (1939) [16:44]
Ballade for viola and piano (1939) [10:01]
Two Songs for voice, violin and piano (1931) [4:37]: Wood Magic, Lament of the Tall Tree
Three Songs to Poems by Trevor Blakemore (1940) [6:40]: Nocturne, Illumination, Harvest
Sonatina for violin and piano (1933) [10:30]
Three Winter Poems for string quartet (1948) [9:00]: Winter Landscape, Elegy-Frozen Waters, Serenade-Snow Shower
Chaconne for Tom for treble recorder and piano
Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Roger Chase (viola),
Andrew Ball (piano: rhapsody, ballade, sonatina) Lucy Wilding (cello), Jeremy Huw
Williams (baritone: songs) Iain Burnside (piano: songs, chaconne), Bridge String Quartet, John Turner (treble recorder)
rec. 22 March (chaconne), 17 and 18 August (rhapsody, sonata, ballade) and 10 and 11 October (songs) 2006 at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk
Booklet notes by Andrew Knowles and John Turner
NAXOS 8.570340 [70:15]

This disc is built around two themes. The first is a survey of Alwyn chamber music and songs from throughout his career, although mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. The second† theme is the personnel: all friends and colleagues of the violinist Madeleine Mitchell in her activities with the RCM, the Bridge String Quartet and in duos with Andrew Ball and Jeremy Huw Williams. This makes for both proficient musicianship and a relaxed but committed atmosphere that serves Alwyn well.
The first piece I listened to has been a favorite of mine since its recording nearly fifteen years ago on Chandos: the Sonata-Impromptu for Violin and Viola. I found the performance here even better than the Chandos one with a wonderful rapport between Ms. Mitchell and the violist Roger Chase. The piece is a fine example of both the composerís technical ability and his imagination - see the variations of the second section. A similar ability to combine different compositional elements is seen in the Rhapsody for Piano Quartet. Itís a work in which the rhythmic, fugal, contrapuntal and creative aspects are perfectly synthesized. In this performance Andrew Ball provides yeoman-like support from the piano, giving the other three players each a chance to shine.
Of only slightly less interest is the Ballade for Viola and Piano, which is just as much a Rhapsody as the piece discussed above. It was written for the well-known violist Watson Forbes and the pianist Myers Foggin. I think Alwyn had a predilection for the viola as the viola part is sometimes the most interesting in his chamber music. This piece starts out in Baxian mystery and ends up in French sunshine, again demonstrating the composerís stylistic range. The intensity is restored with the 1948 Three Winter Poems for String Quartet, dedicated to the composerís teacher Sir John McEwen. Although this piece antedates by five years his String Quartet No.1, Alwyn had already written a dozen quartets at the Royal Academy and his handling of the medium and ability to use it to express his thoughts are quite evident. The Winter Landscape is exactly that - a perfect recollection of what one feels in the winter. The second piece is full of suppressed turbulence - waiting for the ice to crack. The instruments are beautifully used here. There is a more elegiac tone at the end. In the last piece a little of the tension is dissipated. The Bridge Quartet shows off their wonderful ensemble in this piece with the individual lines very clear. They are helped in this by the engineer Michael Ponder.
Alwynís songs tend to be more removed, almost magisterial, than his instrumental works. The ones here are no exception. The two songs for the interesting combination of voice, violin and piano are early works (1931) and set to texts written by the composer, who was a poet, translator and painter as well as musician. The first is quite serene, while the second is a true lament. I found Jeremy Huw Williams not totally convincing in the first, but better in the second, where there is a slight suggestion of the Housman songs of Vaughan Williams. The more substantial Blakemore poems form a sort of vocal counterpart to the Three Winter Poems with the unifying subject being various aspects of love. Jeremy Huw Williams is much stronger here, ably handling a wide variety of shades of emotion. Iain Burnside supports him well.
The two smaller instrumental worked are both charming and the Sonatina has to qualify as one of the composerís most lyrical works. Given the excellence of the performances and the fact that five of the eight works on the disc are world premieres, no admirer of Alwyn should hesitate to purchase this disc, not even those who have all of the chamber discs made by Chandos. Recording quality is generally excellent and frequently adds to the general impressiveness.
William Kreindler

see also review by Ewan McCormick
Alwyn discography


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