I suppose an interest ought to be declared here. EM Records is an offshoot of the English Music Festival and the founder of and driving force behind that festival is Em Marshall, a frequent contributor to the pages of MusicWeb International over the years. However, I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Em once so I believe I can approach this disc with objectivity.
The Bliss sonata has never been published and there’s no indication in the very thorough documentation as to when it may have been written – perhaps this is unknown. However, the condition of the manuscript, which is held at Cambridge University Library, strongly suggests that it has been performed. Rupert Luck relates, in his very interesting booklet note, that the manuscript indicated that Bliss had revised the score and, happily, the text of those revisions eventually came to light. With the consent of the Bliss Trust, Luck has edited the score into what probably represents the composer’s final thoughts on the work. It’s a very appealing, warmly romantic composition, cast in a single movement that falls into four sections. I’ve listened to it several times with great pleasure. It’s strongly melodic from start to finish and this very attractive and well-argued work finds a splendid advocate in Rupert Lock, whose singing tone is ideally suited to the piece. In his notes he describes the work as having “red-blooded, long-lined, finely-arched themes [and] an opulent, though never intrusive, texture.” That’s absolutely accurate and it’s just how the piece comes across in this highly committed and clearly authoritative performance.
As an admirer of Bliss’s music I count this piece a significant discovery and the advocacy it receives here is compelling. I hope that Rupert Lock’s editorial work and this fine recording will lead other violinists to take it up.
Walford Davies wrote no fewer that five sonatas for violin and piano but only two of them – in E minor and D minor – have ever been published. Rupert Lock took on the task of editing the remaining three in 2009 and here presents the debut recording of the A major sonata. He doesn’t say whether his work on the other two sonatas is yet complete.
The present sonata is cast in four movements and at the very outset we hear a short motif that crops up in all four movements, acting as a binding force. Like the Bliss it’s a confident, romantic composition but its tone is, at times, somewhat darker. The work contains some warm lyrical passages but several stretches are more turbulent. Rupert Lock’s view is that “this Sonata is vivid proof of the fact that English composers wrote music that is as full-blooded and emotionally charged as any.”
Lock and Rickard make a strong case for the piece and I enjoyed both the music and their performance very much. The main idea of the finale struck me as slightly reminiscent of Elgar’s Shepherd’s Song. I’m curious as to why the slow movement was given the title ‘The Monk and the Warrior’.
I’ve seen York Bowen referred to as ‘The English Rachmaninov’ and the imposing, big statement with which his Violin Sonata opens might well give a clue as to why this comparison should have been made. The first movement of this sonata contains some urgent, dramatic music, though the second subject relaxes into a lovely, lyrical vein. The second of the three movements is pensive and subdued for much of the time and it seems like a reflective oasis between the ardent outer movements. The finale is a bravura, often fiery creation, which is tossed off with fine virtuosity by these two players.
This is an outstanding disc. Rob Barnett beat me to it in designating it as a Recording of the Month but my welcome for it is no less strong. Both Rupert Lock and Matthew Rickard are fully on top of and responsive to this music and their performances are not only skilful and very musical but also full of commitment. I sense they are delighting in unveiling to a wide audience this unknown repertoire – certainly the description ‘unknown’ applies to the Bliss and Walford Davies works. The performances have been splendidly recorded in the sympathetic acoustic of the Wyastone Concert Hall and the documentation is excellent.
This release is a most auspicious launch for EM Records and I look forward eagerly to future releases. In the meantime I hope collectors of English music will reward the enterprise of the label and enrich their own experience by hastening to add this CD to their collections.
See also review
by Rob Barnett and review by
Jonathan Woolf BARGAIN OF THE MONTH