Chamber Music: Clarinet Sonata
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Among British composer William Alwyn' large body of work, including five symphonies, concertos for flute, oboe, violin, harp, piano, and many shorter orchestral works, there is a significant amount of chamber and instrumental music. This disc presents six
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While Alwyn may have "disowned" his early works, on the evidence of the Sonatina for viola and piano (1933) and Sonata for oboe and piano (1934) included in this chamber music compilation, it's fortunate for us that he didn't destroy them. Remarkably enough, this is the first time that the Sonatina, a really lovely work, has been recorded. The Sonata for oboe and piano from 1934 is even more appealing: fifteen minutes of music that's gorgeous from beginning to end. The brief Suite for Oboe and Harp (1945) is also very attractive, with hints of Irish and Celtic folk melodies. The Clarinet sonata (1962), which opens the program, is twelve minutes in length and in one movement. Alwyn called it a "fantasy sonata," and aptly so considering the almost improvisatory nature of the music. The String Trio (1959) and Conversations (1950; originally titled "Music for Three Players) round out this fine program of Alwyn chamber music.
Both the Suite for Oboe and Harp and Conversations were not recorded until 1993; the Chandos disc on which they appeared is nla, but I had it in my collection and thought it was quite good (Alwyn: Chamber Works, Vol. 1). The performances on this Naxos disc are excellent as well and the sonics are first class.
Very enjoyable and warmly recommended.
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.