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British Violin Sonatas - Volume 3
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Sonata in E minor, Op. 112 (1945) [20.11]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
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, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20133 [70:07]

As her public performing career draws to an end in 2020, after so much and such keen pleasure over four decades, Tasmin Little has given us – yet again – a demonstration of what has made her career so special. Immense technical skill, rich and secure tone are accompanied by intellectual insight and personality. Also, she has always been adventurous in her repertoire, moving beyond the familiar warhorses (though I treasure still her early recordings of the Brahms, Sibelius, Bruch, and others, with Vernon Handley) to more neglected pieces. She has a commitment to British music, demonstrated in this lustrous series of Violin Sonatas. I treasure the memory a live performance of the Delius Concerto at the Cadogan Hall, with a frail but superb Vernon Handley in 2008. She retires at the very peak of her powers.

Some of the pieces here may be familiar. The York Bowen, a substantial piece in its own right, is in three movements, and has been several times recorded. Perhaps the finest rival recording is by Chloe Hanslip and Danny Driver, on a superb 2-disc recording of Bowen’s complete works for violin and piano (Hyperion CDA67991/2). The new recording has nothing to fear from comparison. Little and Lane are a touch more spacious, without any loss of momentum, and Lane is rather more forthright than Driver, an equal partner rather than accompanist, and no less attentive to fine detail, most notably in the mix of emotions in the technically complex first movement.

I have a particular affection for Ireland, and this sonata, dedicated to Albert Sammons, is, I think, one of his finest pieces of chamber music. It is by turns assertive, gentle and angry. The piece was written in wartime, and Ireland’s deepest feelings are on display. At the same time, Ireland was determined to do justice to Sammon’s eloquence and technical skill. Little and Lane capture all these facets in probably the most significant work on the album.

James Francis Brown’s The Hart’s Grace, despite relative brevity, is a piece of many moods, inspired by the sight of a deer taking flight ‘with a strange, trance-like motion’. It was composed for Tasmin Little and the Hertfordshire Festival of Music. It is a lovely work deserving wider currency, within the English tradition of string music. It repays close attention.

Lovely too is Alwyn’s graceful Sonatina. Though dismissed by the composer as a prentice work, it is eloquent and readily appealing – and much more substantial than its common use as a teaching piece.

Coates’ work, receiving its premiere recording in the form (it was originally for viola and piano, commissioned by Lionel Tertis), is not negligible. Accomplished and flowing, it is a useful reminder of Klemperer’s dictum that there should be no distinction between light and serious music: only between good and bad – and this is worthy to stand beside the other pieces on the disc.

Little and Lane have compiled a fascinating programme for this fine release. Those of us who have followed this wonderful artist with enthusiasm and interest will feel a touch of sadness at this valediction, but also so much gratitude for so many and such splendid treasures.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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