Alwyn: Chmaber Music

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Alwyn
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Clarinet Sonata; Oboe Sonata; Viola Sonatina; Suite for Oboe and Harp; String Trio; Conversations
PERFORMER: Robert Plane (clarinet), Lucy Gould (violin), Sarah Francis (oboe), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola), Lucy Wakefield (harp), Sophia Rahman (piano); Hermitage String Trio
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572425

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Once again, Naxos’s ongoing attention to William Alwyn’s music shows its altogether different level of quality, compared to the prolix anonymity lapsed into by so many composers of his English generation.

Perhaps the least convincing work here is the last to have been written: in the Clarinet Sonata of 1962, for all its usual superb technique and tight-reined clarity, there’s a sense of the later Alwyn trying to drive himself to be a more darkly modernistic composer than he was, or needed to be.

For all the Léon Goossens-like loveliness of Sarah Francis’s oboe-playing, even her artistry can’t disguise that the Oboe Sonata and Suite are slender works.

Everything else is vintage Alwyn. The Viola Sonatina’s self-deprecating title disguises the understated strength of its four beautifully inventive movements. Alwyn handles the exacting demands of the String Trio medium as if they don’t exist; and his unconventional imagination in an outwardly conventional context shines through the eight movements of Conversations penned for violin, clarinet and piano.

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Performances and recording both excel, with Sarah-Jane Bradley’s viola-playing outstanding and Sophia Rahman’s accompaniments a model of supportive expertise throughout. Malcolm Hayes