There are two world premiere recordings here, in this inaugural release from EM Records; only the Bowen has been recorded before. That should make it of serious interest to collectors of British music, given the novelty of hearing Bliss’s compact, single movement sonata, and Walford Davies’s more grandiloquent late-Romantic one.
The Bliss is a boldly confident affair, with little Vaughan Williams-like nudges from time to time. Its ethos is healthy and outdoorsy, tinged with folklore, and a slow, thoughtful reprise of earlier material toward the end, which adds weight to the argument. There’s a busy piano part, too, so the sonata is well balanced and well distributed, and no mere frolic for the fiddle. Walford Davies wrote five violin sonatas. This one was composed in 1893 and revised two years later, and is cast in four conventional movements, albeit they’re not all conventionally named. A superscription announces the slow movement as being ‘The Monk and the Warrior’. There’s no explanation in the notes as to this rather startling image; it has a Pre-Raphaelite quality, perhaps. As for the music, it’s taut and urgent, and allows some dextrous interplay between the two instruments in the scherzo. And as for the monk and warrior represented in the Largo, a layman’s view might be that the strong, sinewy piano writing represents the latter whilst the soaring and intense violin represents the former. In any case the lyrical flight is attractive. The finale is bold, rugged and has some introspective passages before the ‘prestissimo possibile’ final section sweeps everything to a grand close.
Bowen’s sonata was dedicated to Peggy Radmall, but first performed by Frederick Grinke and the composer in 1947. Rupert Luck and Matthew Rickard catch the heroic rising arpeggios well, that arresting call to arms that propels the sonata on its way. So too they deal justly with the ‘languido’ qualities of the central slow movement. Theirs is a very likable and attractive performance, but for more detailing, and a greater sense of intensity, including a more ‘con fuoco’ finale, you should also hear Krysia Osostowicz and Michael Dussek on an all-Bowen disc [Dutton CDLX7120].
There are enjoyable notes, which include details of Luck’s extensive detective work in respect of the sonatas, and a fine recorded balance. A most enjoyable disc.
also review by Rob Barnett Recording
of the Month (March)