G WILLIAMS Chamber Music
Grace Williams isn’t exactly neglected in the concert hall – at least not in Wales, where every orchestral musician, amateur or pro, must surely have played her Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes. But the pieces on this disc – premiere recordings, every one – are unquestionably rarities, though it’s to be hoped that with such passionate and persuasive advocacy they won’t stay that way for long.
Williams’s chamber works are generally early or minor pieces, most of them languishing in the National Library of Wales until rediscovered by Madeleine Mitchell and her colleagues. In the case of the Violin Sonata – written while Williams was studying with Egon Wellesz in Vienna – the composer herself judged the outer movements ‘not good enough’. Mitchell and pianist David Owen Norris clearly disagree, and find an arresting blend of biting rhythmic energy and stormy lyricism.
Similar qualities permeate the Suite for Nine Instruments (1934) – described by Mitchell as ‘Stravinskian’, though in fact it has real heart, as well as a powerful sense of momentum and a slow movement whose brooding, overcast atmosphere is superbly caught in this urgent performance. The longest work on the disc – the 1931 Sextet for oboe, trumpet, piano and strings – is more expansive, but the London Chamber Ensemble play it with just as much conviction and a real ear for Williams’s unexpected shafts of poetic sunlight (listen to the oboe after 8'50" in the first movement).
The shorter pieces, each lovingly played, show just how much melodic character Williams could fit into a tiny form; Norris’s account of the imposing left-hand Sarabande ought to propel it straight into the concert repertoire. A powerful musical personality, well served by some gripping interpretations. More, please.