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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Philip GATES (b. 1963)
Viola Sonata No.1 (2014) [18:33]
Viola Sonata No.2 (1995/2015) [18:19]
Pipedream (1994/2015) [4:48]
Prayer Meeting (2015) [7:18]
Matthew Jones (viola)
Philip Gates (piano)
rec. October-November 2015, Upper Cranbourne Farm, Sutton Scotney
MELODIST CD0108 [48:59]

The English composer Philip Gates has had several of his discs reviewed on this site. His music is unapologetically old fashioned – in that dread phrase – and hearkens back to elements to be found in mid-period Bridge, Howells and Ireland – to cite just three. He has an affinity with dance rhythms but it’s his lyrical strain that is his most pervasive feature and it’s this that imbues the Viola Sonatas with their particular character. I should note that the second Viola Sonata is an arrangement of the Clarinet Sonata (review) but in its new guise is very appropriately darker and more shrouded.

The First Sonata’s rich melancholy is contrasted – in the first movement – with Scherzando lyricism that recalls the elfin moments of John Ireland’s First Violin Sonata. The catchy Scherzo broadens out majestically whilst the Adagio finale – the layout of the work is broadly Prokofiev-like, or Waltonian in their obvious string analogues – plumbs conspicuous depths. There’s a reflective, reminiscent, almost luminous sense of loss here. The ground-plan of the transposed Second Sonata is similar where once again lyricism, expressive profundity and, in the finale, Latin American dancing brio predominate.

There are two smaller pieces in this 49-minute disc – short measure, I’d add, but aptly all the works are for the viola. The first is Pipedream, which infiltrates some sly Keith Jarrettisms at the keyboard – manned by the way, as throughout, by the composer himself – into the lushly gentle Scottish folk fiddle patterns. And then there is the longer Prayer Meeting, a Gospel-inspired number, in which call and response and preaching are transmuted into the viola-piano form. Though somewhat less idiomatic than Robert Russell Bennett at his vernacular best this is still an engaging piece.

One would expect the composer-executant to be a guiding presence at the keyboard and the excellent Matthew Jones, an experienced artist with a wide portfolio of recordings to his credit, is the distinguished violist. Sometimes the sound can be a little close-up, catching a few anticipatory sniffs and sounding a touch over-forceful in the bass. But this is a small matter. These warm and spirited pieces are well worth encountering.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett


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