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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]
Three Songs to words by Trevor Blakemore (1940) [6:40]
Violin Sonatina (1933) [10:30]
Three Winter Poems for string quartet (1948) [9:00]
Chaconne for Tom (1982) [3:24]
Andrew Ball (piano); Roger Chase (viola); Madeleine Mitchell (violin); Lucy Wilding (cello); Iain Burnside (piano); Madeleine Mitchell (violin); Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone); John Turner (recorder); Bridge String Quartet
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, March, August and October 2006
NAXOS 8.570340 [70:15]

The enterprising Naxos-Alwyn series continues apace with this satisfying collection of chamber music and songs, ranging from the very start of his career to his penultimate composition. As a professional flautist - he played in the LSO in the 1920s and 1930s, including several performances and recordings under Elgar’s baton - Alwyn’s instrumental compositions display that intimate knowledge of each instrument which comes from being an orchestral player.
The Rhapsody for Piano Quartet (1938) begins the disc energetically with its strongly rhythmic opening. There is a memorable slow central section for muted strings and viola solo before the animated mood returns and the music builds to a lively conclusion.
The Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola (1939) was composed for and dedicated to Frederick Grinke and Watson Forbes, and is unusual in British music of the time for its use of two solo instruments. A brief prelude is followed by a set of variations which display Alwyn’s ability to suggest fuller textures than would be expected from these forces. The Finale alla Capriccio rounds off the piece. From the same year comes the Ballade for viola and piano, also written for Watson Forbes. Lyrical at the outset, the work builds to a more impassioned close.
Alwyn’s skill as a song-writer next: Two Songs for voice, violin and piano, dating from 1931, and Three Songs to Words by Trevor Blakemore from 1940. These demonstrate Alwyn’s sensitivity to word-setting - in the Two Songs, his own poems. These songs are well performed by Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams with Ian Burnside and Madeleine Mitchell.
The Sonatina for violin and piano was composed in 1933 and comprises three contrasting movements in an attractive melodic vein. A cool central episode is framed by a fluid Allegro e grazioso and an ebullient finale.
Three Winter Poems for String Quartet date from 1948 but were not performed until twenty years after the composer’s death. The music eloquently captures the coldness and desolation implied by the title. It is not dissimilar to Delius’s North Country Sketches in that respect. This does not however preclude an element of passion in the central Elegy.
Finally, Alwyn’s Chaconne for Tom, written for the performer on this CD, John Turner, as a tribute to fellow composer Thomas Pitfield. This is a very late work dating from 1982 and is a touching and brief set of variations on Happy Birthday to You, but imbuing that familiar tune with an insubstantial, dreamlike character which the scampering conclusion does not entirely drive away. A small-scale piece but strangely memorable.
The performances on this CD are - as usual from Naxos - of a very high standard and the various performers sound as if they have been playing this music all of their lives. The programme itself is intelligently planned, with three chamber works comprising roughly the first half, followed by the song settings, two further chamber works and finally the late Chaconne.
Ewan McCormick
British Composers on Naxos page


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