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British Violin Sonatas
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Sonata (1948) [26:57]
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Sonatina for violin and piano (1933) [10:38]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Caprice for violin and piano (1975) [3:05]
Elegy for violin and piano (1972) [2:25]
Little Dancer for violin and piano (1959) [2:13]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 4 (1949) [17:51]
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Pierrette: Valse Caprice (1934) [3:27]
Sir Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Elegy, Op. 33 No. 2 (1951) [3:28]
Toccata, Op. 33 No. 3 (1951) [1:52]
Clare Howick (violin)
Simon Callaghan (piano)
rec. 2019, Wathen Hall, St. Paul’s School, London
First Recordings (Jacob)
SOMM SOMMCD0610 [72:00]

Robert Matthew-Walker’s authoritative booklet notes attest to the flourishing of the British Violin Sonata during the course of the 20th century. Six key figures, who contributed to the renaissance of modern chamber music in Britain, are included in this fascinating release. Gordon Jacob’s three short pieces are warmly welcomed as first recordings. William Alwyn’s Sonatina of 1933, described as "beautifully proportioned", has had only one previous outing. Violinist Clare Howick is making her SOMM debut in repertoire with which she has a close affinity; she has been an ardent champion of British violin music. She has previously recorded a selection of British Violin Sonatas for Naxos, of which my colleague Stuart Sillitoe spoke in glowing terms (review). Somm has had the support of the William Alwyn Foundation, the Lennox Berkeley Society, the Delius Trust, the Rawsthorne Trust and the RVW Trust in the realising of this latest venture.

The only work I was already familiar with is Walton’s Violin Sonata. It was a commission by the wife of Yehudi Menuhin for her husband and brother-in-law, Louis Kentner. The dedication was to both performers’ wives. Its composition coincided with the death of Walton’s partner, Alice, Lady Wimbourne. His sense of loss is tangible in the bittersweet character of this two-movement masterpiece. Howick and Callaghan surf the tender lyricism, nervous undercurrents and potent intensity with purposeful intent and, at the same time, strictly observe the audacious dynamic contrasts. The second movement consists of an Andante theme with seven variations, and much is made of the interplay between the two instruments. Especially effective are the dreamy and improvisatory sections, which compellingly envelop the listener.

William Alwyn’s early Sonatina for violin and piano received only a single performance during his lifetime, in 1935 at the Royal Academy of Music. The opener is gentle and flowing with a bucolic bent, but also glances back wistfully. The lilting rhythm of the central Adagio, serene and introspective, provides a striking contrast to the stirring and ebullient finale. Howick and Callaghan capture the varied moods, and have a true grip on proceedings.

Kenneth Leighton was a 19-year-old student at Oxford when he wrote his first sonata for violin and piano in 1949. It was premiered in Bordeaux in July of that same year by its dedicatee Christopher Strode, with the composer at the piano. Its mellifluous lyrical outpourings run the course throughout the three movements. Vaughan Williams was clearly an influence in the nostalgic second subject of the first movement, and we get a fleeting glimpse of Edmund Rubbra in the opening measures of the finale. A chordal tread sets the pace of the slow movement, but it gives way to an impassioned central section. Cross rhythms and simple rhythms create some metric ambiguity in the gigue-like finale.

The remainder of the programme consists of short stand-alone works. Gordon Jacob’s first recorded outings consist of a melancholic Elegy, Caprice, which is a playful whimsy, and an attractive piece with a light-hearted spring in its step titled Little Dancer. Rawsthorne’s Pierrette: Valse-Caprice was written as a wedding present for his first wife, violinist Jessie Hinchcliffe. This ear-catching piece oozes elegance and allure. The two contributions from Lennox Berkeley are taken from a set of three pieces, composed in 1951 for the English violinist Frederick Grinke. Elegy is sombre and plaintive, whilst Toccata is a digital tour-de-force of nervous energy.

This is a fascinating collection of works, expertly performed with unalloyed musicality and commitment. The recording quality and balance are second to none.

Stephen Greenbank

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