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Richard ARNELL (1917-2009)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1940) [11:16]
Violin Sonata No.2, Op.55 (1949) [17:09]
Variations on an American Theme, Op.76 (1955) [10:54]
Passacaglia for solo violin, Op.23 (1942) [6:38]
Stanley BATE (1911-1959)
Violin Sonata No.1, Op.47 (1946) [18:57]
Patrick Wastnage (violin)
Elizabeth Dunn (piano)
rec. 2017, Henry Wood Hall, Trinity Church Square, London

Though the booklet cover promotes Richard Arnell, one can see the name of Stanley Bate in smaller font size. Both composers, near contemporaries, are represented by their works for violin and piano written in the years between 1940 and 1955. Arnell is represented by four works, Bate by his 1946 Violin Sonata.

I think it was sensible to programme Arnell’s Second Sonata first – Toccata could just as easily have made things chronological had it wanted – as it shows a more tensile, brusque but also vertical sense of characterisation than the earlier work. This sense of tension and determined terseness is pervasive in the first movement and this makes the contrast with the delicate, almost ethereal central movement that much more striking. This beautifully lyrical Andante, with its cadential passage, is reflective and rapt. By the finale the jagged edges of the opening Vivace have been rather smoothed away, replaced here with a scherzo-light brightness, brief reminiscences of the slow movement and then an insouciant throwaway end.

His 1940 sonata is very entertainingly constructed. Its opening movement is stylistically rather closer to Bate’s work than to Arnell’s later self and embeds some charming lyric moments before the 38 second Adagio – blink and it’s gone - ushers in the longest of the three panels, a lyric, aerial, unostentatious movement that, when it says all it’s got to say, stops. The 1942 Passacaglia for solo violin is a commanding example of architecture and development whilst the Variations on an American Theme – dated 1955 in Lewis Foreman’s outstanding notes and 1953 on the back of the jewel case – offers a more open-air view of things. Its theme is, as Foreman suggests, rather Coplandesque and there is a balletic spirit to a couple of the variations - the work consists of a theme and seven variations – that along with the solo violin cadenza and the pacy, driving sixth variation vest the work with balance and drama. The final variation strikes me as a slow hymnal. Somewhere along the production line the tracking cues in the booklet analysis of the work have gone awry.

Bate’s Sonata has cleaner lines than Arnell’s rather greater astringency; maybe its engaging drama was part-derived from Vaughan Williams and there is a wistful, sorrowing quality to the second movement Lento, where the fiddle sings over the piano’s quietly spaced chords. A fresh-faced March is followed by a somewhat Bartókian finale; exciting, and virile.

Violinist Patrick Wastnage, of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, premiered Arnell’s Piano Trio, Piano Quartet and Salute for String Trio in the presence of the composer. Both he and Elizabeth Dunn have extensive portfolios as chamber musicians and it shows in their dedicated, sensitive and thoroughly imaginative performances. These are all premiere commercial recordings and as such are warmly welcomed.

Jonathan Woolf

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