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King of Instruments - Instrument of Kings
Herbert SUMSION (1899–1995)
Violin Sonata in E Minor op. 3 (1920) [16:11]
Richard PANTCHEFF (b.1959)
Sonata for Violin and Organ, op.74 (2010) [22:56]
Harold DARKE (1888–1976)
Violin Sonata No.1 In E Minor op. 2 (1920s?) [23:34]
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin); Duncan Honeybourne (piano and organ)
rec. 2014, Chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge
world première recordings
EM RECORDS EMRCD029 [62:39]

This CD presents violin sonatas by two British names fairly familiar to those who know their British music of the first half of the last century. Sumsion and Darke were choral and organ practitioners - leaders in the fields of festival and cathedral. Sumsion made a name in the direction and shaping of the Three Choirs Festival. He was associated with many English choral events including Finzi's Intimations of Immortality and Howells' Hymnus Paradisi. Darke was for many years one of the mover and shakers in London's music world particularly linked with St Michael's Cornhill. His St Michael's Singers gave an annual festival that boasted first or early performances of Dyson's Hierusalem, Howells' An English Mass and RVW's A Vision of Aeroplanes. Both Darke and Sumsion wrote substantial organ music hence the title

Herbert Sumsion's short three-movement Sonata has a smiling disposition pulled between the tropics of Brahms and Dvorak. The latter is strongly in play in the final Allegro. The central Lento doloroso takes on a more modern hue - tentative and melancholy but with impulsive episodes to provide contrast and a sprinkling of confident propulsion. This is very agreeable music and kindles hopes for revivals of the Sumsion orchestral works: Idyll, At Valley Green; Lerryn; A Mountain Tune and Overture, In the Cotswolds. There are also other chamber works: a Piano Trio (1931), a Cello Sonata in C minor and a String Quartet in G major.

The music of Richard Pantcheff was new to me but on this showing he is worth monitoring. The Sonata, composed in 2010, is predominantly a three movement essay in peace and consonance. A sense of calm and 'letting go' seep into the flesh and bones as you listen. The first movement has a touch of the Lark in ascent about it or should that be Lark ecstatic? A contemplative muse lords it unchallenged over this surprising Sonata with the occasional pastel hint of Finzi, Messiaen or Pärt. The final gurgling Tarantella recalls Shostakovich among those sometimes unassuming voices.

In the Pantcheff Duncan Honeybourne plays the Hudlestone Organ, built by the Swiss firm of Orgelbau Kuhn and installed in 2007.

The Harold Darke Sonata does not shrink from sumptuous Brahmsian expression: stirring, majestic and driven. This is a young composer announcing himself with all the flooding confidence of youth. The Andante is memorable for its typically broad and sweet melody (3:27) while the finale playfully casts off any Teutonic heaviness and moves at times closer to Brahms friend Dvorak. This makes for a scorchingly satisfying conclusion. Surely it must be worth recording Darke's Switzerland Symphony which is in three movements and dates from 1914. Also in his worklist will be found an early Phantasie for piano and orchestra and a Concert Overture that was played in May 1918 in Bournemouth. Quite apart from piano and organ solos, songs and part-songs there are some seemingly substantial pieces for soloists, choir and orchestra: The Kingdom of God, As the Leaves Fall, Ye Watchers (1923) and Ring out, Ye Crystal Spheres (Milton) (1926).

Thanks to the author of the booklet who introduced me to a new word 'chiasmus'. You may have to look it up; I certainly had to.

The performances are as satisfying and as confidently magisterial as the recording quality which never misses a beat in its clarity and strength. We should never take the redoubtable Rupert Marshall-Luck for granted. Here is a man who continues to introduce us to works that the years have discarded and trodden down. He brings them to us not as something fusty and dusty but as precious and joyous. His work at the EMF in this and previous years (2013, 2015) and his many previous discs leave us in no doubt as to his great artistry and advocacy (Stanford and Milford; Bantock and Holbrooke; Bantock, Coke and Scott, Walford Davies; Gurney and Howells). It's an extraordinary heritage that he is laying down. Duncan Honeybourne is likewise a very fine and expressive player with a questing inclination and a good eye and ear for the neglected yet musically rewarding. We know him from his contributions to the EMF as well as his eloquent EM Records CDs of Moeran and Greville Cooke and we can surely hope to hear more from him.

Rob Barnett