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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Horn Sonata (1903, realised Martin Yates) [18:33]
Quintet in D Major for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1898) [25:30]
Household Music: Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes (1940-41) [14:23]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Horn Sonata (1901) [11:25]
Peter Francomb (horn)
Victor Sangiorgio (piano)
Royal Northern Sinfonia Chamber Ensemble
rec. 2019, Sage Two, Gateshead, UK
DUTTON CDLX7373 SACD [72:05]

Vaughan Williams wrote a Horn Sonata in 1903 and it exists in manuscripts kept at the British Library. It’s in seven pages of sketches with a complete, separate solo horn part. Given the incomplete piano part, much existing only in outline, it fell to Martin Yates – who had looked through the composer’s early manuscripts of 1897-1902 – to recreate it and his completion and realisation can be heard in this disc.

It’s in four movements of strong character and should make an appealing addition to the repertory as long as not too much is expected of it. The opening movement is confidently arranged and there’s a sense of noble warmth in the Romanza where Yates ensures some lovely piano writing maximises the beauty of the themes; he has sourced contemporary VW works - notably the contemporaneous piano quintets – to ensure idiomatic piano writing. With a typically bluff finale to conclude, complete with a cadential passage for the horn – it was probably intended for the great Adolf Borsdorf though there’s no indication he played through it – there’s a pleasing amount for both performers to project.

Five years earlier he had written a Quintet for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano which did have an early performance, where the horn player was none other than Borsdorf. Brahms is clearly the model but there’s also a salon-oriented element to some of the writing that diverts it from the central European mainstream. Fluency and fluidity are watchwords, as is a genial expressive lightness in the waltzing scherzo with some mock virtuoso flourishes. Again, the heart of VW beats in the slow movement, the horn singing nobly, the clarinet responding with liquidity. The crisply accented and high-spirited finale ends the work attractively. Household Music is a much later work, written during the early years of the Second World War and premiered by the Blech String Quartet in 1941. The intended audience was the amateur market as much as the professional one, and whilst the string quartet was the basic line-up there was an optional horn part, in which form we hear the work in this recording. There are three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes, an opening slow fantasia and then St Denio, a scherzo, much better known as ‘Immortal, invisible God, only wise’ inevitably, given the tempo direction, taken far faster instrumentally than it would ever be sung. The final panel is Aberystwyth – the familiar hymn ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’ which is heard in the form of a theme and eight variations of which the last is by far the longest and most complex. It’s beautifully performed here.

The final work, programmed first, is Bax’s Horn Sonata, written two years before VW’s. It was composed when Bax was in his second term at the Royal Academy of Music. It’s a bold single-movement work – bold especially in the piano part, intended for the composer to play, and one can allow some youthful showing-off, not least because there’s no indication the work was ever played. Ripely Romantic, it’s haunted by Brahms but there are firefly glimpses of embryonic Baxian lyricism along the way, such as to keep the faithful content.

Both Horn Sonatas are, of course, heard in première recordings and this is the first digital recording of the Household Music. Peter Francomb and Victor Sangiorgio play with elegance and passion, never overloading the music but nevertheless being appropriately susceptible to its moments of overflowing busy-ness (I’m thinking especially of Bax’s piano writing). Their colleagues in the Quintet are equally persuasive and I liked the well-balanced recording as much as Lewis Foreman’s comprehensively admirable booklet notes.

Jonathan Woolf

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