Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Sonata for Violin and Piano (1954) [29:00]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Five Pieces for violin and piano: Lied ohne worte* [4:36]; Maya* [2:14]; Greeting* [3:03]; A Spring Song* [3:48]; Valse-étude [2:40]
Henry WALFORD DAVIES (1869-1941) Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat major* (1893-95) [18:03]
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin); Matthew Rickard (piano)
rec. 13-14 April 2012, Wyastone Concert Halls, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales
*World première recordings
EM RECORDS EMR CD006 [63:23]

A relative newcomer to the market EM Records is releasing attractive and often rare repertoire. These discs will be of significant interest to lovers of late-Romantic English music. This release is highly appealing with a score each from renowned Vaughan Williams and Holst together with a sonata from the more obscure Henry Walford Davies. All three are close contemporaries of each other and had studied with Stanford at the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London.
Both Holst and Vaughan Williams are far better known for their orchestral works than for their chamber scores. Performances of Vaughan Williams’ chamber music are only occasionally encountered in the concert hall. Certainly this aspect of his extensive and richly rewarding output is inexplicably neglected. For my money the String Quartet No. 1 in G minor (1908), the String Quartet No. 2 in A minorFor Jean, on her birthday’ (1942/44) and the Phantasy Quintet (1912) are of high quality and worthy of significant attention. Vaughan Williams’ Sonata for Violin and Piano is a late score from 1954. It was introduced the same year by the dedicatee violinist Frederick Grinke and pianist Michael Mullinar for a BBC Radio broadcast on the occasion of the composer’s 82nd birthday. Serious, full of nervous energy and a tad unwelcoming the G minor Sonata seems miles away from Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style. Here the composer tends to rely mainly on motifs rather than long lyrical lines. In the opening movement Fantasia the writing is windswept with an agitated intensity as if persistently searching for something. Carrying on where the Fantasia left off the Scherzo contains driving rhythms full of angst and anxiety. Lengthy, at fourteen minutes, the finale is a theme and six variations. These range widely from mystery to stark solitude, from earnestness to a desperation for tranquillity.
To see a Holst chamber score on a recital programme is a very rare event. Holst wrote a small number of chamber scores including a Quintet for Piano and Winds in A minor, Op. 3 (1896) and a Wind Quintet in A flat Major, Op. 14. (1903). I have no date for his Five Pieces for Violin and Piano however they were published individually between 1902 and 1904. It seems that the Valse-étude was the only piece performed during Holst’s lifetime. Dedicatee violinist Marie Hall made a recording of it as early as 1924 but it seems the other four pieces have had to wait until now for their première recordings. I found the opening piece Lied ohne worte (Song without words) lyrical and highly romantic. Maya, an Allegretto is also highly lyrical radiating a warm and summery disposition. Marked Andante, Greeting is impassioned. A Spring Song is intense and serious. Constructed with varying tempi, Valse-étude is buoyant, expressive and agreeable. Owing to their appealing nature it’s hard to imagine why this work is not a repertoire staple.
Walford Davies served as a ‘Master of the King’s Music’ and wrote a substantial body of work including a great deal of sacred choral music. These days almost all of his works are ignored. Undoubtedly the best known is the R.A.F. March Past (1921) which the composer had written in short piano score whilst serving as Director of Music for the Royal Air Force. Some time later Sir George Dyson (another Stanford pupil) added some extra music and prepared the orchestration. The Solemn Melody (1908) in its various arrangements is still heard today. Walford Davies composed five violin sonatas and the Violin Sonata in E-flat major presented here is closely contemporaneous with the Violin Sonata in A Major (1893 rev. 1895) played by the same performers on EM Records EMR CD001. Walford Davies wrote his Violin Sonata in E-flat major in 1893. Unsatisfied, he provided a new finale in 1895. This elegant and splendid three movement score maintains a slight degree of reserve yet is deserving of praise. Commencing with an Allegro moderato the writing is stormy and somewhat stern. There are many long lyrical lines yet one discerns swift shifts in key and character. A variety of subtle moods are experienced in the Largo yet nothing feels too extreme. I was struck by the agreeable and passionate Finale and the clever shifts in textural colour.
On this recital disc Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard concentrate on communicating the music without any idiosyncratic or intrusive exaggeration. This high calibre partnership speaks of sanguine spontaneity and a natural warmth and affinity for the music. I was impressed with Marshall-Luck’s appealing timbre and Rickard has a fine sense of keyboard colour. Recorded earlier this year the sound has splendid presence, clarity and balance.
Michael Cookson
Sanguine spontaneity and a natural warmth and affinity.