Mcewen: Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 5 (Sonata-Fantasia); Violin Sonata No. 6; Prince Charlie

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COMPOSERS: Mcewen
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 2; Violin Sonata No. 5 (Sonata-Fantasia); Violin Sonata No. 6; Prince Charlie
PERFORMER: Olivier Charlier (violin), Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9880
Previous Chandos releases resurrected JB McEwen, inter-war principal of the Royal Academy of Music, as a notable orchestral and choral composer. Yet in his lifetime he was chiefly known for his chamber music: so it’s welcome that this new disc is the first of a series devoted to McEwen’s chamber works, especially his sizeable output of string quartets.

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Although these four violin works were published in McEwen’s lifetime, they’ve languished in a deeply undeserved obscurity. Collectively they illustrate his instrumental skill, structural originality and highly personal blend of late-Romantic syntax with more progressive French influences (primarily Debussy) and elements from the folk music of his native Scotland. Individually they’re nicely differentiated. The most striking piece is the Fifth Sonata (1921) for Albert Sammons, a two-movement design whose huge first movement is dominated by pealing bell-sounds while the second is a manic, almost Bartókian-barbaric, Highland dance. In considerable contrast, the Sixth (1929) has an almost Fauré-like elegance and sense of Classical poise under threat. The ‘Scottish Rhapsody’ Prince Charlie is a delightful lighter piece – and incidentally belongs to the long Scots fiddle tradition, going back to the 18th century, of sonatas and fantasias for the concert hall built out of folksong material. Much of the writing is of virtuoso standard: Charlier and Tozer turn in splendidly spirited performances in excellent sound. Let’s hope some enterprising violinist will have the gumption to take up these fine pieces in public. Calum MacDonald