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English Violin Sonatas
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)
Violin Sonata in E op. 50 (1918) [29:47]
Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
Violin Sonata No. 3 (1940) [19:53]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Violin Sonata in D op. 11 (1880) [25:39]
Susanne Stanzeleit (violin)
Gusztav Fenyo (piano)
rec. St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, 1994. DDD
REGIS RRC1376 [75:34]

Experience Classicsonline

This anthology of extremely finely played English violin sonatas drawing on works across six decades has seen some action over the years. It was first released in the early-mid-1990s as Cala United CACD88031. It then took a bow as the other half of a disc that began as Cala United CACD 88036 but was reissued by Portrait – a label associated with Regis – including Stanzeleit’s Dunhill, Bantock and Stanford with her Fricker, RVW and Rawsthorne. If you have the Portrait or the original Cala you won’t be needing this. If you missed out on these then don’t delay as the price is pretty much unbeatable for some totally unhackneyed English repertoire. It addresses a once emaciated sector of the genre. English chamber music of this vintage got a look-in from Saga (a rather good Ireland LP with Tessa Robbins) and Lyrita (lots of Ireland) among much else in the days of the LP but was only seriously dug and delved when the CD entered the lists. Since then EMI Classics, Chandos and Lyrita have issued discs but more specialist work has been done by the BMS (at random: Foulds; Bowen), EM Recordings, Naxos (try the recent Holbrooke collection) and especially by Dutton who pretty much sweep the field. The latter is exemplified by CDLX7219 but Dutton Epoch discs in this category are now legion.

Bantock’s three violin sonatas date from 1929 (No. 1 dedicated to Albert Sammons) and 1932 (No. 2 dedicated to Arthur Catterall). You can catch up with those two on Dutton Epoch CDLX7119. Fascinating that all three date from his years of comparative eclipse after the Great War. A man with a genius for the orchestra he from then onwards turned more often to the more practical sphere of chamber music though by no means exclusively. The Cello Sonata is also on Dutton and the Viola Sonata is due out very soon on Em Marshall's rapidly risen English Music label. The Third Sonata is a bejewelled essay using themes typical of the tone poems. Lyrical themes flow like honey. Rather typically Bantock entitles the central movement The Dryad. He had a thing for Greek classical idylls as did Bax and a few others. This movement can be thought of as in the same mode as his symphonies The Cyprian Goddess and the Pagan. It's rather static and moonlit. It will be remembered that Bantock was a great evangelist for Sibelius in the UK and that Sibelius dedicated his Third Symphony to Bantock. Sibelius’s catalogue includes The Dryad, The Wood Nymph (a quite separate work) and The Oceanides (review). The lively Bantock finale tends towards salon Kreisler frivolity at first before catching itself and introducing something slightly more serious though still animated.

The Second Sonata by Thomas Dunhill is an ambitious and accomplished work in three capacious movements: serious, passionate, beautiful and big-hearted. It stands apart from the Stanford and Bantock, very much a grieving and poignant product of the Great War years. In this and several other senses it can be grouped with John Ireland's contemporaneous Second Violin Sonata. Each can speak as a veritable Testament of Youth. For Dunhill this is an impassioned work in which stormy fervour meets lyrical release in much the same way as other big violin sonatas of the time including works by Koechlin and Ropartz. The finale proceeds with a lighter more insouciant heart and sanguine energy.

While Dunhill and Bantock were Royal Academy luminaries Stanford was very much of the Royal College. His chamber music has much to yield up as Christopher Howell has reminded us. The eight string quartets should surely be recorded as an intégrale just as Chandos set out to do with McEwen’s sonatas (review) and quartets (vol.1 vol.2 vol.3). The Mendelssohnian rather than Brahmsian delights of this Sonata were written for the Austrian Ludwig Strauss, Queen Victoria's 'solo violinist'.

I do hope that Stanzeleit and her pianist of choice will turn to other English sonatas resolutely in the shade including those by Edward Isaacs (1881-1953), Reginald Redman (1892-1972), Percy Turnbull (1902-1976), Healy Willan (1880-1976), Alfred Corum (1890-1969) and Walter Thomas Gaze Cooper (1895-1953).

The fine and succinct notes set the scene rather well.

Well worth acquiring and the only place to go for these works. The Dunhill and the Bantock are indispensable. The Stanford is pleasant but not compelling. Overall this is a generous and rewarding trio of duo-sonatas made outstanding by the Dunhill sonata.

Rob Barnett






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