The music for violin and piano comes first. Pierrette is an attractive
salon piece but hampered by the predictability of its triple rhythm which
often makes music sound cheap. Predictability and reliance on formulae and
devices in music is often disadvantageous.
The Concertante dates from the mid 1930s. It has some interesting
harmonies and both a lyricism and classical style and concludes with some
robust music. It is a good piece and is given a fine performance.
But it is the Violin Sonata of 1959 that is the prize on this disc.
It does not have the power and originality of the sonata by Mátyás
Seiber written about the same time but it is a serious piece in four movements.
The opening movement sandwiches an allegro non troppo between
adagio sections and the 'classical' clarity is admirable. The
allegretto does not make an ample contrast with the first movement
but the following toccata is a reasonably strong movement although
this performance, good as it is, could have been more allegro di
The finale, epilogue is marked adagio rhapsodico and, in my
view, is the finest movement. I admire the lyricism given to the violin,
the simplicity and economy of the music and yet it is never sparse. It has
a tenderness, not quite beautiful music, but approaching it.
The piano pieces begin with the Four Bagatelles of 1938 which are
given a convincing performance and I am glad that some of Rawsthorne's fussy
markings of tone are ignored. The opening allegro is reminiscent of
Brahms' middle piano music ... consider Op 79, for example and has
that often intrusive Rawsthorne 'signature tune' for example bar 34ff. Compare,
for example, the Piano Concerto No 1 ... figure 16ff in the first
movement. The allegretto has that Bachian clarity that Rawsthorne
so enjoyed and the presto non assai has the same thumbprint but now
in 6/8 time and another of his 'signature tunes' that can be detected all
over his work notably in Practical Cats. The lento used to
strike me as a meander but is a thoughtful piece and Bach is not far away.
For the keen listener consider the Concerto in D minor for two violins
as a comparison.
The Four Romantic Pieces of 1953 are really another set of bagatelles.
The word 'romantic' refers to imagination of course, and the tempi of the
pieces agree chronologically with the Four Bagatelles. But, by now,
a worrying feature appears. Rawsthorne has some good thematic ideas but does
not develop them and this is a pity and, apart from the Piano Concerto
No 1 little of his piano music sparkles. It is rather 'brown' and passive.
My esteemed colleagues rate the Ballad of 1967 as Alan's best piano
work. This seems to show some influence of Debussy and both the classicism
of Bach and the mellow Brahms have receded. The Ballad has always
caused me to consider it to be autobiographical but here is not the place
to develop this conviction.
After completing the Ballad, Alan told Humphrey Searle and I that
he was still searching for a personal style. And I think that sums it up.
It is Rawsthorne's lack of a personal voice and identity coupled with his
sometimes colourless music that many people find disconcerting.
And yet these performances should go a long way to dispel that notion. Certainly
the Violin Sonata should be given a wide circulation.