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Moeran chamber RES10296
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Ernest J MOERAN (1894-1950)
Violin Sonata in E minor (1923) [20:02]
Sonata for Two Violins (1930) [14:53]
Prelude for Cello and Piano (1943) [5:10]
Piano Trio in D major (1920) [26:09]
Fidelio Trio
Nicky Sweeney (violin)
rec. May 2021, Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, UK
RESONUS RES10296 [66:27]

Moeran’s chamber music is less often encountered on disc than his bigger works but it’s an aspect of his oeuvre that has always interested his admirers. Too often the works have been scattered in compilations of British music for two violins or in the context of piano trios but Resonus has focused here on an all-Moeran disc and left us with the hope that they might next focus on the Cello Sonata and the String Trio, one of his great works.

For now, we have three significant pieces and the little Prelude, for Cello and Piano written for his wife-to-be, Peers Coetmore, full of romance and wistfulness. The Violin Sonata is another matter, composed in 1923. It’s clearly patterned after his teacher John Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata of 1917, and its chromaticism and dissonance fuse with a military march-like thematic development to vest the music with a considerable force. The strength of lyric invention in the central movement is high, though it’s uneasy too, notably when Moeran pushes the violin high – which is often. The Ireland effect is rekindled in the finale with strong March rhythms. This is a neglected work but in their 40-year-old Chandos recording Donald Scotts and John Talbot take both the Lento and the finale rather quicker than do the Darragh Morgan-Mary Dullea team, somewhat to the music’s advantage, I feel.

The Sonata for Two Violins is played by Morgan and Nicky Sweeney and their performance fizzes with folkloric influence. It’s played with playful awareness of the engaging pizzicati in the second movement and, in the Passacaglia finale, the resumption of the folk-style verve ends the piece on a decided high. The earliest of the four works here is the Piano Trio of 1920, though it was substantially revised when it was published in 1925. As with Vaughan Williams in his earlier years, the influence of Ravel on Moeran can be felt quite strongly and it permeates this trio. Harmonically it’s full of fancy, as well as folk-like material, propelled over the rich piano chording provided by Mary Dullea with cellist Tim Gill’s expressively long-breathed phrasing irradiating the music’s richer textures. The high point of the trio is perhaps the B section of the third moment Scherzo, a lovely creation that stretches the music beautifully before returning to the engaging energy of the previous material. In truth, at 26 minutes, it’s rather overstretched for its material but when played flat out, as here, it certainly makes its mark.

The Fidelio Trio in its various permutations, with Sweeney added for the Sonata for Two Violins, has the music under its fingers and delivers stylish and rhythmically vivid performances in the finely judged acoustic of Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon.

Jonathan Woolf

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