British Violin Sonatas
Reading Tasmin Little’s account of how the programme of this CD came into being, it is interesting to note that it was William Lloyd Webber’s last completed composition, The Gardens of Eastwell (subtitled ‘A Late Summer Impression’), written in c1980, that was the determining factor. Recorded in its definitive version for the first time, it is a charming, indeed haunting miniature, which sticks in the mind.
While this piece dates from the very end of the composer’s life, the other works essentially date from the first phases of their authors’ maturity. From this standpoint, the earliest is the surviving movement of Bliss’s Sonata in F, composed sometime between 1914 and 1916 before he was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. As in the early String Quartet in A (1914), there is much evidence of Bliss still coming to terms with a late-Romantic technical apparatus (perhaps a little redolent of his hero, Elgar), very different from the more neo-classical works he adopted directly after the war. A little overblown at times perhaps (as is the wont of young ambitious composers), the work nevertheless evinces some tender lyrical moments, especially at the close, which Little and Lane shape with exquisite tenderness.
Ireland’s expansive Violin Sonata No 1 of 1908 09 (rev 1917 and 1944), a much-underrated work, is performed here with passion and commitment throughout, and Little brings persuasive contrast to the piece in the big-boned gestures of the first movement and the wistful intensity of the Romance. Both players also capture compellingly in Vaughan Williams’s Two Pieces (c1912 14, though not published until 1923) that fragile language of synthetic modality (derived from folksong), and Impressionism (from his days with Ravel in Paris) which the composer was discovering just before the war in A London Symphony and The Lark Ascending (for which these two pieces are surely ‘études’). These are splendid, sensitive, insightful interpretations by two great advocates of British music. I hope Vol 3 is forthcoming!