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British Violin Sonatas - Volume 1
Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999)
Violin Sonata No.2 Op.10 (1946) [16:57]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Suite Op.6 (1934-35) [15:47]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Sonata (1947-49) [22:39]
Two Pieces (1948-50) [5:46]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. December 2012, Potton Hall, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN 10770 [61:39]

I won’t be the first to point out that there are only two sonatas here but if we allow Britten’s early and archly enjoyable Suite and Walton’s lovely Two Pieces, then we can enjoy the two major works with their satellites, uninterrupted by pedantry.
 
Howard Ferguson’s Op.10 Sonata is a splendidly compact work full of incident. It was once performed by Isaac Stern, who took it up on Myra Hess’s urging. Their 1960 Edinburgh Festival performance has been preserved and released, and is an important document of, in Hess’s case, ‘first generation’ musicianship, given the close professional relationship between Hess and Ferguson: she famously first recorded the Piano Sonata. The Chilingirian-Benson Hyperion (CDA66192) and Lewis-Filsell Guild (GMCD7120) are both worthy recordings of the Op.10, but seem to me to be outclassed by this Little-Lane entrant. The Chandos pairing keep things moving, and are significantly faster than Chilingirian and Benson, and on a par with the Guild duo - though as is his wont Oliver Lewis is very fast in the slow movement. More to the point, Little’s tonal resources are the most opulent of the three and she is the most involved in the expressive intensity of the Adagio. To cap things, she and Lane traverse the sonata’s dramatic and lyrical paths with conspicuous excellence.
 
Walton’s Sonata will always be associated with Yehudi Menuhin, for whom it was written and who premiered it in recital and on disc, on both occasions with Louis Kentner. You can find it marooned in disc 24 of the vast 50 disc (and one documentary CD) EMI boxed set (26413211) which I reviewed on its release. Little and Lane are nearly two minutes quicker than Menuhin and Kentner though Menuhin’s inimitable tonal resources, his sense of the music’s fantasy and colour, infuse the sonata from the very start. Little takes a rather less intensive approach to phrasing, and she doesn’t replicate Menuhin’s very busy accenting, and probing intensity. Lane tends to turn corners with rather greater rhythmic speed than Kentner. The result is another fine performance, less personalised than the Menuhin-Kentner but vividly characterising the second movement variations to great effect. The exciting Scherzetto was originally intended as the central movement of the Sonata but was, sensibly, excised - there’s plenty of contrast in the variations as it is. It’s heard here in Hugh Macdonald’s edition, and so too is the delightful Canzonetta, based on a troubadour dance.
 
Britten’s ripe Suite was completed when he was 22 and in its full form it was premiered by Antonio Brosa with Britten at the keyboard. Little manages to vest the Lullaby third movement in particular with really touching refinement, and for all the work’s somewhat knowing veneer this movement and the moto perpetuo second movement offer intriguing pointers as to the composer’s further development.
 
It ends a splendidly recorded and documented disc. It’s good to see Little and Lane - Britain’s best ambassadors for native violin sonatas - exploring ever further afield. Will they record Goossens and Ireland in this series?
 
Jonathan Woolf

Britten discography & review index: Suite

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