Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

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 [62:43]
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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.

Rob Barnett

See also review by John France

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