John Blackwood McEWEN
Violin Sonatas No. 2; No. 5 Sonata-Fantasia
& No 6
Prince Charlie - A Scottish Fantasia
Olivier Charlier (violin);
Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
rec 16/17 March 2000 Potton Hall, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN 9880
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Hearing McEwen's Violin Sonata No 2 one can readily perceive a Gallic influence
in its long Franckian lines, a grace, a sense of motion and an absorption
in beauty. Only once is there a recognisably Scottish folk incursion. As
with all the sonatas presented here McEwen is succinct avoiding maundering
and meandering. While brevity is not the same thing as concision all three
sonatas are less than twenty minutes long. (13.37, 20.00, 19.11 respectively)
and none give the impression of garrulous invention.
The Fifth is harmonically richer, more subtle, than the second; like the
difference between early and later Fauré. A sterner twist to the music
(almost John Ireland in his grim piano solo Rhapsody) subsists amid
a freewheeling liquidity also to be found in Cras and Ropartz. The second
of two movements skitters and rasps in a headlong 'Hungarian' pell-mell linking
thematically to the dark 'snap' theme in the first movement. The mid-European
flavour will put you in mind of other pseudo-gypsy display pieces but there
is so much more here.
The Sixth Sonata was completed five years after he became Principal of the
Royal Academy of Music. It put me in mind of John Ireland's Second Violin
Sonata but perfumed and bejewelled as with early Fauré. Before a finale
of casual elegance and chaffing vitality (at first it recalls the sparkling
scherzo of the Moeran violin concerto) comes a movement that looks to the
then 'modern' developments of Schoenberg and Bartók.
The Scottish Rhapsody, for which an orchestration exists in
MS, weaves its action around Caledonian folk-tunes (including Charlie
Is My Darling) in a quickfire gallimaufry in which a Scottish Lark
Ascending meets Ravel's Tzigane.
I was greatly impressed by this music and can recommend it with all warmth.
It is the first of a series that will include the complete published piano
music and nine of the string quartets. On this showing this will be one of
the most outstanding series Chandos have ever launched. All credit to them
for making such a perceptive choice of artists in Tozer and Charlier.
See also review by John France