3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Daniel R. Coombs
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The new Naxos recording of the chamber music of William Alwyn (Naxos 8.572425) is the latest in a series that catalogues the mid-twentieth century master and is a gem! Alwyn came from a family that had no musical background at all. His father, in fact, was a grocer and yet the family frequently talked about great literature and young William developed great skills as a flutist, pianist and, then, composer from his early school years. He later graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, joining their faculty at the age of 21! He left a large body of works, from several symphonies to small chamber works, like those heard here. These works, and this recording, are quite beautiful all around. The Sonata for Clarinet & Piano (1962) is a single extended movement work written in a flowing, yet bravura, style. It is rhapsodic, full of runs and flourishes of all sorts, ending quite dramatically. Originally written for Thea King, it is wonderfully performed here by Robert Plane, principal clarinet of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and pianist, Sophia Rahma, a highly skilled accompanist known throughout England. The Sonata for Oboe from 1934 opens with a lovely oscillating piano part under a lilting, sometimes jaunty, oboe melody. The first movement flows, somewhat impressionistically, into the middle andantino that has an almost chorale feel to it. The work concludes with a short, tuneful waltz that dissolves into a tranquil coda. The Sonatina for Viola & Piano (1941) opens a bit darkly, followed by a spritely dance. The aria movement is particularly beautiful and the work concludes with a brilliant, virtuostic finale. Lucy Gould, violist, masters the mood and demand of this master work. One of the best aspects of this collection is the inclusion of Alwyn's almost forgotten Suite for Oboe & Harp (1945). This wonderful little surprise was only discovered about thirty years ago in the Leon Goosens collection at the British library. A wonderful work, it focuses on a plaintive, almost Eastern sounding, oboe main theme and a very wistful harp part before the work concludes with a charming waltz. Another highlight of this disc is the String Trio, from 1959. This is a bold, mostly dark, work that stands in contrast in mood to the other works on this disc. Based on a non-harmonic twelve tone row, this is a dramatic and pensive work that stays intense for its fifteen minute duration. The collection concludes with the charming Conversations for violin, clarinet & piano (1950) Eight, brief, tuneful pieces are played all in a row and each carries a different but attractive mood. The "conversations" are the exchanges and sharing of melody between each instrument, especially noted in the Romanza and the Arioso. This entire collection is a must have for fans of Alwyn's music and for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of the wide range of wonderful chamber writing that actually characterized post-Elgar England right through the 1960s. All the performances are superb and the Naxos engineers have again produced a product that sounds clean, well balanced and lively. Highly recommended, indeed!
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
To be perfectly honest, I have to admit that William Alwyn was at his best when he had a full orchestra at his disposal. This is still an interesting release of his chamber music, however, and it spans his creative life providing insight into his stylistic development. The earliest work, the Oboe Sonata from 1934, predates the composer's 1939 decision to disown most of his earlier works - and is, together with the viola sonatina, the work on this disc that is not available in other performances. The sonata is pastoral in character, with an introverted (and not particularly grazioso), big first movement, a characterful, delicate andantino and a lively if inconsequential final movement. The whole work is easy, mellow on the ear and eminently agreeable if not particularly memorable.
The viola sonata (1941) is, despite its title and relatively modest length, a substantial four-movement work, with a reflective prelude, a slightly troubled, quiet dance and a lovely slow movement before concluding with a life-affirming, joyous finale. The delightful, short suite for oboe and harp (1945) is melancholic, touched by folk-song, and generally extremely attractive without saying too much. The Conversations (1950), for clarinet, violin and piano, was originally titled "Music for Three Players". It is indeed conversational and discursive in character and modestly enjoyable and variegated as such, but it is clear that the conversation partners didn't really have much very interesting to say.
The string trio (1959) is more forbidding and experimental in character. Based on a 12-tone row, which is manipulated and cut apart over the span of the work, it is a contrastive and somewhat conflict-filled work only resolved in the serene coda. It is also a rather fascinating and rewarding work, but it will hardly win the composer any new friends. The clarinet sonata (1962) is improvisatory in character, rather rigidly anchored in the opening idea. I cannot say it did much for me. It is convincingly performed, however, as are most of the works on the disc - I don't know how they fare in comparison with the alternatives available, but I have found few things to quarrel with here, perhaps apart from the slightly strident tone of the Hermitage Trio. The sound is rather fine as well. To sum up, this is hardly an essential release, and none of the music is on the level of Alwyn's remarkable symphonies. Fans of the composer will need it, of course, and I suppose those who don't expect too much will find plenty to enjoy here as well.