Elgar • Gurney • Sainsbury
Ivor Gurney is remembered almost exclusively as a poet and song-writer, yet he wrote a great deal of instrumental and chamber music. His E flat Violin Sonata (the first of three), of which this is the first recording, was begun in war hospital in 1918 after Gurney was gassed at Passchendaele and completed early in 1919 when he had returned to the Royal College of Music to study with Vaughan Williams. A large-scale four-movement piece over which he took considerable pains, it isn’t quite the revelation that EM Records claim, but is a sturdy and ambitious work in the Brahms-Stanford tradition with many individual touches; it also has a sustained lyric impulse which flowers to sustained elegiac utterance in the slow movement and carries through into the infectious ardour of the finale. The most striking movement is probably the bittersweet scherzo, with its resourceful use of pizzicato. Also impressive is the motivic intricacy of the writing, both within and across movements so that the ideas of one, transformed, often become the starting-points for the next.
Gurney’s Sonata could hardly find better and more convincing exponents than Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard. Marshall-Luck has an opportunity to show his quality, unaccompanied, in the full-hearted utterance of Lionel Sainsbury’s eloquent Soliloquy (1993), a notable addition to the British solo violin repertoire. The disc concludes with a deeply sympathetic and highly competitive account of Elgar’s Violin Sonata that stresses the lyrical nature of this late masterpiece. The recording is very warm and perfectly balanced.