Alwyn: Sonata Impromptu; Sonatina for Violin and Piano; Three Winter Poems; Ballade etc

COMPOSERS: Alwyn
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Alwyn, Chamber Music and Songs
WORKS: Sonata Impromptu; Sonatina for Violin and Piano; Three Winter Poems; Ballade etc

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PERFORMER: Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), John Turner (recorder), Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Roger Chase (viola), Andrew Ball, Iain Burnside (piano); Bridge Quartet

CATALOGUE NO: 8.57034
While there are no long-lost masterpieces here, the best of this music is more than attractive. Alwyn’s finest music had a refinement, integrity and sustained inventiveness that marks it out from all but the best English 20th-century Romantic music. The first piece, the one-movement Rhapsody for Piano Quartet, has a freshness and pensive lyrical charm that reminded me of Herbert Howells’s much-underrated early Piano Quartet. The still more melancholic – and occasionally slightly astringent – Three Winter Pieces are perhaps closer in style and atmosphere to the younger Frank Bridge. But it has to be said that Alwyn never sounds derivative. Equally impressive is the Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola, which despite the economical scoring, never sounds restricted – had Alwyn been studying the Mozart duo sonatas?

I’m not so sure about the songs, where music and words don’t always seem perfectly wedded, and where Jeremy Huw Williams’s vibrato grated after a while. And the Chaconne for Tom for recorder and piano (based on ‘Happy Birthday to you’) isn’t quite the swansong Alwyn deserved. Overall this is a very enjoyable disc, sympathetically recorded. But if you’re new to Alwyn, I wouldn’t start here.

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Stephen Johnson