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Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958) Violin Sonata no.3 in F ‘Orientale’ op.83 (1926) [12:34]
Sir Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1941) Violin Sonata no.2 in D minor op.7 (1896) [18:10]
Cyril ROOTHAM (1875-1938) Violin Sonata in G minor (1925) [19:49]
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960) Sonatina for cello and piano (1939)* [11:56]
Jacqueline Roche (violin); Robert Stevenson (piano); Justin Pearson (cello); Sophia Rahman (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 14-16 February 2008
World premiere recordings except *first CD recording


Experience Classicsonline

This is a charm for the curious, the enthusiast for these composers and the student of the chamber medium as canvassed by composers of the British Isles. The time span runs from four years short of the transition into the twentieth century to the year of the start of the Second World War. Holbrooke was to see out the war as was Benjamin who lived through both. Benjamin however retained a grip on success, on concerts and on broadcasts. Holbrooke however found that the war spelt neglect as his music became increasingly unfashionable. Like York Bowen he was to live into old age with his music gathering dust around him and with his benefactor since 1907 dying one year after the end of the war. Rootham who had seen active service in the Great War died one year short of the start of War and Walford Davies – a great educator – died while the war still raged.

Holbrooke wrote three violin sonatas (1900s, 1917 and 1925). The middle one is a version of the Grasshopper Violin Concerto which like the concertos for cello and for saxophone awaits a premiere recording. This is the Third Sonata’s first commercial recording although it was recorded privately for the composer in the 1930s and a studio broadcast was put out by the BBC in the early 1980s. This version is played full out with total commitment by Roche and Stevenson. The music is certainly not oriental in the sense we might expect from songs by Bliss, Lambert or Mahler. It’s a vague flavour and whether I would have noticed it but from the title I am not at all sure. The single movement Sonata is mercurial, sanguine, warmly lyrical without being in any way like Brahms or Bruch. If anything you might well warm to this if you enjoy the John Ireland and Dunhill sonatas. It strikes a superb balance between melodic ideas and length. You will not tire of the piece.

For a change of temperature and style move on to Walford Davies’s op. 7 Second Violin Sonata in four movements. After a strenuous Brahmsian first movement comes a chuckling Dvořákian Allegretto semplice. This does not have the all-conquering confidence of the Tovey Piano Trios but it has compactly expressed pleasures of a romantic pensive leaning. The easy-going, flowing and smiling mood glimpsed in the second movement returns with a silvery and very attractive eloquence here.

Cyril Rootham’s music has been in harness with Holbrooke’s before. Have a look at the Rootham First Symphony and Holbrooke Birds of Rhiannon on Lyrita (JF; RB). Rootham in the 1920s wrote with the most treasurable lyrical faculty. The singing line in the first movement for example might well make you think of Delius or Ireland’s Second Sonata but the idea is I think stronger than either. This is not the Sonata equivalent of the First Symphony which in any event lay seven years in the future. The intensely honeyed singing line might be thought of as a modern counterpart to the Karlowicz or Sibelius violin concertos. It is a glorious full-throated idea and Roche makes full play of it. She sounds more excitable and confident than Barry Wilde who recorded it with Alan Fearon on a private LP back in the 1970s. In general the admirable Jacqueline Roche carries her confidence high and harking back to Jürgen Hess’s broadcast of the Holbrooke also leaves him sounding positively tentative. The finale of the Rootham sings in a way that bring to mind Howells at his most pastoral-ecstatic during the decade from 1914 to 1924.

Arthur Benjamin was born in Sydney but was very much part of the British music scene as composer and administrator. His list of works is by no means lengthy although there are a handful of operas. His most striking works are the Symphony and the Romantic Fantasy for violin and viola and orchestra – the latter dedicated to Bax and by no means at odds with the Delian idiom. The Cello Sonatina is in three compact movements of which the middle one seems to hark back to Bach while the finale has the devilish obsessive quality of the Bax Viola Sonata’s central movement.

The simply splendid booklet notes – almost essential with a release this recondite - are by the pianist Robert Stevenson.

This makes for a fine conspectus of neglected British violin sonatas and in this company the Rootham and the Holbrooke stand out. It will complement the Forum-Regis collection. I also hope that it will serve as a pathfinder for a further collection to include the Isaacs Violin Sonata and Holbrooke’s Second Sonata. More please.

Rob Barnett

see also article on the Genesis of this recording by Robert Stevenson


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