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aBritish Symphonies
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W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
Bax, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Berkeley
Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

Van Dieren Chinese Symphony
Searle Symphonies 3, 5
Shaw Piano Concertos 1 and 2

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Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
Violin Sonata in E Flat Major (1918/1919) [34:38]
Lionel SAINSBURY (b.1958)
Soliloquy for Solo Violin, Op. 21 (1993) [7:24]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op. 82 (1918) [26:22]
Rupert Marshall-Luck (Violin)
Matthew Rickard (Piano)
rec. 28-29 September 2012, Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
EM RECORDS EMR CD011 [68:24]


It’s not often that one is asked to review a premiere recording of a large-scale Gurney work. The Sonata in E Flat is more than half an hour long and unquestionably a landmark in the composer’s development. Here Gurney is working on a far broader canvas than in his piano works and songs and the result, if not an absolute masterpiece, is impressive and undeniably moving. The first movement initially seems a touch loose-limbed, yet repeated listenings reveal a finely thought out structure, with Gurney taking care to ensure that the musical material is closely related. The opening of the brief second movement is absolutely charming as played here, with the violin pizzicato accompaniment to the piano’s main theme making a refreshing textural change. The heart of the work, however, is undoubtedly the slow movement, which sustains a wonderfully lyrical mood throughout and is music of real substance and depth. The finale succeeds in drawing all the musical threads together in a most satisfactory manner. Throughout the work there are touches of Brahms and Elgar, but what is striking is how individual much of this music is.
Everyone involved in this worthwhile project deserves the highest praise. Rupert Marshall-Luck had the considerable task of editing the manuscript, especially the bowing indications. This enterprise was clearly a labour of love. Although nothing will change my firm opinion that the two most important English violin sonatas are Rubbra’s Second and the Moeran, this newly discovered work is unquestionably a major find. I strongly urge lovers of British Music to encounter it in this superb interpretation.
The music of Lionel Sainsbury is largely unknown to me, but if his “Soliloquy for Solo Violin” is anything to go by, I will be wanting to investigate his work without delay. This is a passionate and beautifully written piece, which eschews more contemporary playing techniques in favour of simplicity and purity of expression. Its impact is out of all proportion to its relatively short length. At times I was reminded of Rubbra’s masterly “Variations on a Phrygian Theme”. This Sainsbury piece is a work of great nobility and strength.
Elgar’s Sonata is not exactly a rarity on CD, with rival versions existing by Nigel Kennedy, Lorraine McAslan, Tasmin Little and Daniel Hope. This new version more than holds its own in this illustrious company. It is a splendid performance which underlines the wistful nostalgia of Elgar’s late masterpiece more than any other account I have heard. Hope’s version is perhaps more assertive, but Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard get closer to the heart of this piece, combining glorious playing with a real understanding of the emotions behind the notes. If the Gurney and Sainsbury works appeal, this will be a self-recommending first choice. Hope’s disc also includes the Finzi Elegy and the rather less interesting Walton Sonata.
This is a superb new release. The sound is rich, yet clear, as one would expect at the Wyastone Concert Hall. The documentation is excellent – extremely informative and a model that other record companies should follow.

David Jennings

See also review by John Quinn