English 18th Century Violin Sonatas
This attractive disc of 'English' violin sonatas includes two examples by Italians and one Dutch piece; it might have included some Handel too. But the natives do pretty well, and in fact the best and most individual work is the sonata by Joseph Gibbs, the East Anglian organist who in a busy life of 90 years produced eight violin sonatas, six string quartets and a few keyboard pieces. Quality rather than quantity: No. 1 in D minor (c. 1748), by far his best work, is extraordinarily original in its lines and its harmonic twists, and its finale is a hauntingly beautiful set of variations—all played here with just the right freedom of spirit and immediacy of musical response by Elizabeth Wallfisch.
Gibbs was musically indebted to Geminiani, as were most English composers: his First Sonata, spiritedly done, is a brilliant piece, modelled closely on Corelli but abandoning some of the classical poise for the sake of greater elaboration. Richard Jones, a London violinist of whom almost nothing is known, provides an attractive if not specially individual chamber sonata; but the little Arne piece, really only half a sonata (just two movements), at once proclaims the class and distinction of its invention, which Wallfisch does not fail to convey.
The sonata by Giardini, who did much in the way of innovation when he arrived in England in 1750, is fairly ordinary until the last movement, an odd and entertaining folky dance, surprisingly rumbustious. The little piece by Hellendaal, a Dutchman who worked in Cambridge for many years, is quite charming; but I found the violin sonata by the younger Thomas Linley, Mozart's boyhood friend in Florence, disappointing, with slender musical content but ample, perhaps excessive, violinistics. Everything, however, is sympathetically and imaginatively played and the disc is one that curious readers should certainly try.