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British Violin Sonatas
Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Violin Sonata (1948/49) [26:57]
WILLIAM ALWYN (1905-1985)
Violin Sonatina (c. 1933) [10:38]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Elegy (1972) [3:05]
Caprice (1975) [2:25]
Little Dancer (1959) [2:13]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Violin Sonata No. 1 [17:51]
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Pierrette: Valse Caprice (1934) [3:27]
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, Richmond upon Thames, London
SOMM RECORDINGS SOMMCD0610 [72:00]

This new album entitled ‘British Violin Sonatas’ consists of a collection of nine twentieth-century works from six English-born composers, comprising of a pair of sonatas, a single sonatina and six separate pieces for violin and piano. Spanning some forty years, these works make a worthy addition to the growing corpus of English/British chamber music on record.

Standing out, and the best-known work here, is the Walton Violin Sonata written between 1947-49.
This impressive two-movement score was commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin who gave the premiere accompanied by pianist Louis Kentner in 1949 in the Tonhalle, Zurich. In the 1920s Walton had been regarded as a ‘modernist’ although at this time his predilection was judged as ‘conservative’, favouring a traditional Late-Romantic approach of writing integrated with some elements of twentieth-century composition style. The Sonata, especially its violin playing in its high register, reminds me of the composer’s earlier masterpiece, the Violin Concerto (1938-39, rev. 1943). Howick and Callaghan revel in Walton’s writing, which is so lyrical and expressive. The duo savours the passionate romantic yearning of the contrasting central passage, which is predominantly squally in character. Consisting of a theme and a well contrasted set of six variations, the final movement is performed with focus and well-judged tempi.

Highly productive, Alwyn achieved renown as a film composer, writing over 70 scores for the big screen between 1941 and 1963. One of Alwyn’s numerous chamber works, the oldest piece on the album is his Violin Sonatina written around 1933. Introduced at Royal Academy of Music, London in 1935, the Sonatina had just the single performance and stayed unpublished for 75 years. Lasting under 11 minutes here, the short three-movement work is imbued with Alwyn’s trademark Romantic lyricism. Both character and charm imbue the duo’s performance in the Sonatina. The calm of the opening Allegro e grazioso is entirely engaging and the reflectively atmospheric Adagio is striking, too. The partnership is in fine form, providing very appealing playing in the closing movement Vivace which is highly buoyant and positive in mood.

A most prolific composer of over 700 original works and arrangements over a 60-year period, Jacobs was very active in the field of chamber music. In the repertoire for violin and piano, Jacob is represented here by three short, miscellaneous works that span some 16 years. Undemanding and endearing, each work receives its first recording here. Impressive playing from Howick and Callaghan conveys languor and contemplation in the Elegy from 1972, followed by the ebullience of the Caprice written in 1975. Most amiable of all, is the Little Dancer composed in 1959 for violinist Frederick Grinke which easily evokes a march of toy soldiers.

Of Leighton’s 100 or so works, the best known are his sacred choral works written in the Anglican church tradition but otherwise his output is often overlooked. Leighton produced a small but not insignificant body of chamber works and is represented here by his Violin Sonata No. 1 both written and premiered in 1943 when he was 19 and a scholar at Queen's College, Oxford. In three movements, the Sonata brings to mind the music of Vaughan Williams and John Ireland, opening with a squally Allegro molto appassionato of a deeply passionate and imploring character. The duo’s playing of the central movement Lento e liberamente is ravishing, adeptly creating a sense of fragile beauty. Impressive, too, is the boundless energy of the high spirited Presto energico.

Remembered mainly today for his scores for some 27 films written between 1937 and 1964, Rawsthorne also composed a sizable number of chamber works. Although Rawsthorne was in his 50s before completing a violin sonata, some 24 years earlier in 1934 he wrote Pierrette: Valse Caprice for violin and piano. This short, single movement piece was Rawsthorne’s wedding present to the violinist Jesse Hinchcliffe, his first wife. The partnership imparts a noteworthy level of sincerity to their performance of this enchanting salon work.

Taking the advice of Ravel in 1926, Lennox Berkeley travelled to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, which was clearly a watershed in Berkeley’s career, as, from then on, his compositional language achieved a more urbane, continental character than many of his British contemporaries. Writing in most genres, Berkeley produced a substantial output of chamber music including several works for violin and piano, including two violin sonatas and a violin sonatina. Here, Berkeley is represented by his Elegy and the Toccata taken from his opus 33 set of three works written in 1951 and dedicated to violinist Frederick Grinke. Not included here is the Theme and Variations for solo violin, the first of the opus 33 set. This playing of the charming and undemanding Elegy by the duo is undoubtedly fine and the Toccata is restless with nervous energy.

The high quality of performance from the duo of Clare Howick and Simon Callaghan is conspicuous throughout this album. Their artistry is melded with unwavering focus and unfailing rapport, and their attractive sound adds to the joy of these works. The Somm engineering team provide clear, well balanced sonics and the album is nicely presented, too.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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