ENGLISH MUSIC FOR VIOLA AND PIANO • Sarah-Jane Bradley (va); Christian Wilson (pn) • NAXOS 8.572761 (76:06)
BAINTON Viola Sonata. HOLLAND Suite in D. BOWEN Piece for Viola. BANTOCK Viola Sonata in F, “Colleen”
Looking at the composers represented on this CD, oneRead more would expect it to have been issued by Lyrita, or Chandos, or Dutton, but here it is on Naxos, and for a fraction of the cost. The sonata by Edgar Bainton and the little Piece by York Bowen (as yet unpublished) seem not to have appeared on CD until now.
Simply said, this is a very worthwhile and enjoyable release. The music, while it is not revelatory, is highly attractive, and the performances are strong. According to the blurb on Naxos’s inlay card, these four composers were “inspired by” the great English violist Lionel Tertis—an appropriately vague phrase, as it seems Tertis did not commission any of them. In fact, the booklet note relates that Tertis visited Bainton to “try over” the new sonata, but ultimately did not add it to his repertoire. (His loss!)
All four composers, born within 16 years of one another, were contemporaries of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Nevertheless, the works included here are nicely varied. Bainton’s sonata suggests a French influence, particularly from Fauré. Bainton was a civilian prisoner of war in Germany during much of the Great War—he had been visiting Bayreuth when war broke out—and this darkly lyrical and elegiac sonata, composed during the summer of 1922, may have been colored by that experience. The so-called “English Pastoral ” school can also be felt. It seems to me that this sonata, whose fascination never wanes, should have a more prominent place in the viola repertoire, but life is not fair.
The three-movement Suite (1938) by Theodore Holland opens with a movement in which gestures characteristic of Richard Strauss alternate with more naïve material. The central Romance is moody and not at all sentimental, and the Finale, while it begins brightly, becomes increasingly driven and hectic. This Suite is more loosely constructed than Bainton’s Sonata, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
As for Granville Bantock, his Viola Sonata (1919) sounds like something Richard Strauss might have written had he gone vacationing in Ireland. The surging melody with which the sonata begins is far from the only time, in this work, that the German composer seems to be hinted at. The sonata’s subtitle is an allusion to an Irish air, Colleen Dhas Croothe Na Mó, that Bantock previously included in two of his folk-song collections. Bantock’s use of the melody is subtle, however, and if this work has an Irish flavor, it is not at all stereotypical, except in the jig-like third movement. At 33 minutes, it is a hefty sonata. Again though, it is not too long for its material. The brief (1:53) Piece by Bowen serves as a modest but lyrical transition between the larger works by Holland and Bantock.
Several of Sarah-Jane Bradley’s earlier discs have been reviewed in Fanfare, and all of them were positively welcomed. I was going to write that she cannot make an unlovely sound, but it must be said that there are brief passages in the last movement of Bantock’s sonata in which her playing sounds a little frazzled. Apart from that, there is so much to enjoy in her playing that one gives up trying to describe it, and simply sits back, happily, to enjoy it. Pianist Christian Wilson, in addition to writing the bulk of the expert booklet notes, is a terrific asset in this program. It presents him significant technical challenges, but all are conquered with confidence. Recommended!
Brightly BritishJanuary 22, 2014By bess holloway (Boulder, CO)See All My Reviews"With this disc NAXOS has given listeners another wonderful bargain. We Americans have to search hard for our British roots--we are an English speaking country--when it comes to classical music. The composers represented are obscure by name, but their works here are entirely engaging. I love this recording!"Report Abuse