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British Violin Sonatas - Volume 3
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Violin Sonata in E minor, Op.112 (1945) [20:11]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor (1915-17) [25:07]
James Francis BROWN (b. 1969)
The Hart’s Grace (2016) [6:55]
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Sonatina (1933) [11:16]
Eric COATES (1886-1957)
First Meeting (1941, rev. 1943) [6:35]
Tasmin Little (violin)
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN20133 [70:07]

First, the sad part; this is the last of the Little-Lane duo’s conspectus of British violin sonatas, given the violinist’s imminent retirement. But now for the good news; at least they have finally recorded John Ireland’s Violin Sonata No.2 and it’s a real scorcher of a reading. But first, a brief recap. The opening volume in the series focused on Walton, Ferguson and Britten and the second on Bridge, Bliss and Ireland (Sonata No.1). Little has always resisted pressures to record works from her repertoire when circumstances have not been right – such as orchestras or conductors, for instance. But with Piers Lane, there is no such impediment and this duo has emulated and indeed surpassed in longevity that of another similar Anglo-Australian partnership, their great predecessors Albert Sammons and William Murdoch.

Their Ireland works so well because of its assured fusion of fieriness and seraphic nobility. The opening paragraphs gets a tremendously incisive interpretation, Lane cannily demarcating the rhythms, Little marking out the dynamic gradients. In terms of tempo relationships, it’s on a par with Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards, now on Helios, another taut and assertive reading, though the Chandos team are weightier and tonally more vibrant performers. The forward pulse of this performance is never in doubt, the ruminative tolling motifs always brought out, the slow movement full of melancholy, its threnodic March aptly judged here. Little’s cantilena here is particularly beautiful. Phrasing from both musicians is just right, as it is in the finale – implacable but flexible, lyrical and dramatic.

York Bowen’s 1945 Sonata is the other large-scale work in the programme. Again, there are alternative recordings, though far fewer than the Ireland, of course, but once again it’s the sense of drama and finesse that sets the reading apart. In the maestoso first movement they are, for instance, significantly more trenchant than Rupert Luck (as he then was) and Matthew Rickard on EM Records, deftly though they play. The virtuosic ebb and flow of this chromatic and attractive music is explored with exemplary relish by Little and Lane and in the expressive stoicism of the slow movement, and the rollicking bravura of the finale, they really take the sonata by the scruff of its neck.

The smaller works are all cleverly characterised. William Alwyn’s Sonatina of 1933 has a delicious youthful freshness, a very expressive and chromatic central movement and a frolicsome finale – really giocoso in their hands. Finely though the competition play, on Stone and Naxos, this is the most vibrant reading. James Francis Brown’s The Hart’s Grace was composed in 2016 and after some initial restlessness it’s suffused with a tranquil grace; a delightful miniature. And Eric Coates’ First Meeting, written in 1941 for his son Austin’s 21st birthday, is a real charmer with which to end.

Mervyn Cooke’s helpful notes have been supplemented by Little’s performer’s note which makes for good reading. This is a tremendous disc, and shows how Little and Lane have continued to explore their repertoire, to hone and refine their interpretations, and to present the public with the bounty of their art.

Jonathan Woolf

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