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Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, April 2012

This CD claims five recording premieres. Alwyn himself more or less repudiated a lot of his early stuff, but in some cases, at least, he was too hard on himself. Nothing on this program can claim the status of neglected masterpiece, but a lot of it charms.

The performers are all first-rate. I single out violinist Madeleine Mitchell and violist Roger Chase for their fine, focused tone. Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams has a Peter Pears quality in his voice, but his diction is much better and he declaims poetry well. The Bridge String Quartet gives an evocative account of the Winter Poems, while John Turner and Iain Burnside realize the sly humor of the Chaconne. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Penguin Guide, January 2009

The works here span Alwyn’s composing career from the Two Songs of 1931 (in which Huw Williams sings sympathetically…) to the engaging little Chaconne variations on ‘Happy Birthday’ for Tom (Pitfield), written in 1982. However, the duet works here are the most appealingfor viola and piano and for violin and viola (both beautifully played). The Rhapsody (1939) is a most effectively constructed miniature and the atmospheric Winter Poems are certainly bleakly wintry. Performances are most sympathetic and the recording is well balanced.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

The works here span Alwyn’s composing career from the Two Songs of 1931 (in which Huw Williams sings sympathetically…) to the engaging little Chaconne variations on ‘Happy Birthday’ for Tom (Pitfield), written in 1982. However, the duet works here are the most appealingfor viola and piano and for violin and viola (both beautifully played). The Rhapsody (1939) is a most effectively constructed miniature and the atmospheric Winter Poems are certainly bleakly wintry. Performances are most sympathetic and the recording is well balanced.

Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

After giving us British composer William Alwyn's orchestral music, including his Five Symphonies, Naxos had added three more CDs featuring his piano music (8.570359), song cycles (8.570201) and chamber music (8.570340). The latter contains some real jewels, like the Sonata Impromptu for Violin and Viola, and the Three Winter Poems for String Quartet. All praise to Naxos for giving Alwyn (1905-1985) his belated due.

Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, March 2008

William Alwyn is best known for his orchestral works – in particular the fine series of five symphonies already issued by Naxos – and his music for films such as The History of Mr Polly, Carve Her Name With Pride and A Night to Remember. His songs and chamber music are much less familiar. This fact is reinforced by the fact that five of the eight works on this CD are receiving their first recordings.

This CD includes music which spans fifty years of Alwyn’s career, although all but two of the pieces originate from the decade 1938-48. The earliest works on this enterprising disc are the Two Songs for Voice, Violin and Piano of 1931. Alwyn’s music for voice is probably the least well-known of his less familiar output. These two songs, Wood Magic and Lament of the Tall Tree set poems by Alwyn himself. Both reflect on themes of nature and loneliness and are imaginatively arranged for the unusual line-up of baritone, piano and violin. More conventional are the Three Songs to Words by Trevor Blakemore from 1940. Again, these songs are reflective in nature, although I found them strangely less satisfying that the two earlier settings. I found the recording balance for the songs very slightly on the reverberant side. I would have appreciated having Jeremy Huw Williams’ voice a little closer in the balance relative to Iain Burnside’s piano and swathed in slightly less of Potton Halls’s lovely acoustic. Sadly, no words for the latter three songs were provided in the booklet.

The Rhapsody for Piano Quartet which opens the disc is a strong, muscular work with a more subdued middle section. It reminded me of Bax in parts and I would imagine this would be a welcome addition to the piano quartet repertoire for those that discovered it. The Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola is a slightly later work and was written for Frederick Grinke and Watson Forbes, who gave the first performance in 1940. For me, this piece rewarded repeated listening. It is never easy to write for just two string instruments but Alwyn rises to the challenge admirably, especially in the imaginative Theme and Variations second movement. All three movements use contrapuntal fugal writing allowing the aural illusion of there being more then two instruments present. This is further strengthened by the excellent performance by Madeleine Mitchell and Roger Chase who are perfectly matched as musical partners and lend to the music an apparent ease of execution which belies the music’s technical complexities.

The violist Watson Forbes was one of the dedicatees of another of Alwyn’s works from 1939; the Ballade for Viola and Piano – the other dedicatee being Myers Foggin. Like the slightly earlier Rhapsody for Piano Quartet, the Ballade flows freely from beginning to end, without any serious symphonic ‘development’. Roger Chase again plays beautifully, ably supported by Andrew Ball. The early Sonatina for Violin and Piano from 1933 inhabits a more tranquil, wistful world than the other instrumental pieces on this CD and is one of Alwyn’s more overtly lyrical works. For all its brevity – less than eleven minutes – its three contrasting movements are immensely satisfying and it is astonishing that this is the Sonatina’s first ever recording. As in all her appearances on this disc, Madeleine Mitchell gives a flawless and thoroughly idiomatic performance with Andrew Ball again proving the perfect duo partner.

The Three Winter Poems for String Quartet date from the beginning of 1948 and were dedicated to Alwyn’s former teacher John B McEwen. It is one of many works for string quartet that the composer wrote prior to his ‘official’ First String Quartet in 1953 and it was never performed in Alwyn’s lifetime. It received its first performance by the Maraini Quartet in June 2005, during the composer’s centenary year. These effective miniatures are self-explanatory in their character and the Bridge String Quartet gives convincing but perhaps slightly understated performances.

In later life, Alwyn’s health was not good and he had more or less decided that his composing days were over. However, he was persuaded to put pen to paper again in 1982 when recorder player John Turner was compiling an album of short pieces by his colleagues for composer Thomas Pitfield’s eightieth birthday for the following year. The Chaconne for Tom joined other pieces by Alan Bush, Gordon Crosse, Anthony Gilbert and John McCabe and is an engaging set of variations on Happy Birthday to You for recorder – played here by Turner himself – and piano – here Iain Burnside taking time out from his song accompaniments. It proved actually to be Alwyn’s penultimate work, the Third String Quartet following in 1984.

For lovers of post-romantic English music in general and of William Alwyn’s work in particular, this must be an indispensable issue. Just under half of the disc’s playing time comprises works never heard before on CD and the others – represented on a Chandos CD with only the Rhapsody appears elsewhere as well – all receive the sort of winning performances one has come to expect from Naxos’s superb survey of twentieth-century English music.

Patrick Rucker
Fanfare, March 2008

These instrumental and vocal chamber works by the British composer William Alwyn (1905–1985) span half a century and include five works here recorded for the first time. The excellent violinist Madeleine Mitchell brought together the performers with a subvention from The William Alwyn Foundation. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, October 2007

Naxos continues to champion Alwyn for a burgeoning band of devotees

Having surveyed William Alwyn’s orchestral output with such conspicuous success, Naxos now turns its attention to the chamber and vocal music. Just three of the eight items on this useful anthology have previously been recorded: the urgently expressive Rhapsody for piano quartet and strikingly resourceful Sonata Impromptu for violin and viola were completed in 1939, the latter written for (and premiered by) Frederick Grinke and Watson Forbes, while the ravishing Three Winter Poems for string quartet date from early in 1948 and bear a dedication to Alwyn's teacher at the RAM, Sir John McEwen (who died that same year aged 80). All are well worth getting to know and display the fastidious craft and generosity of feeling that are characteristic of their creator.

Of the music new to the catalogue, the 1939 Ballade for viola and piano combines full­throated ardour and wistfulness in a manner which suggests a more than passing acquaintance with Bax's powerful Viola Sonata. The 1933 Sonatina for violin and piano wears a sunnier demeanour, and we're also treated to five exquisite settings of poetry by Trevor Blakemore (1879-1953) and the composer himself (Alwyn was an accomplished flautist and painter to boot). The disc concludes with the pithy (and witty) Chaconne for Tom (I 982), part of an 80th-birthday tribute devised by recorder player John Turner for the Lancastrian composer Thomas Pitfield (1903-99).

Performances throughout reflect great credit on all concerned in their scrupulous preparation and unquenchable conviction. Sound and balance, too, give no real cause for complaint. Alwyn's growing band of admirers needn't hold back.

Andrew Stewart
Classic FM, October 2007

William Alwyn, who played flute with the London Symphony Orchestra in the late 1920s and 1930s, made his name as a film composer with fine scores to films such as The History of Mr Polly and Carve her name with pride. Although his tuneful chamber music occasionally labours under the weight of too many ideas, the emotional thrust and elegance of Alwyn's melodic writing register the strongest impressions. Violinist Madeleine Mitchell and a distinguished company of musical friends unlock the romantic richness of works such as the Sonatina and the gorgeous Ravel-like Ballade for viola and piano. Outstanding.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Having brought to the catalogue landmark recordings of William Alwyn's symphonies and piano concertos, Naxos now turns its attention to his chamber music and songs, this new release containing five world premiere performances on disc. Born in 1905, Alwyn had to terminate his musical education at the age of 18 in order to earn a living for the family following his father’s untimely death. Yet such were his gifts as a musician, London's Royal Academy of Music invited him back three years later to take the post as composition tutor. By his mid-thirties he had amassed a considerable catalogue of works, but a period of self- reassessment brought about the destruction of almost all of his scores. He had come into the world at a time when England was looking for a successor to Elgar, and Alwyn more than most found this a heavy responsibility. He was also surrounded by Vaughan Williams, who was making considerable headway, and a brazen young upstart in William Walton. By contrast, Alwyn was a composer wedded to tonality and one who saw progress rather than revolution as being the way forward. Link that to a time when the British music establishment was besotted with avant-garde composers, and Alwyn found it an uphill struggle. Fortunately his music could find a ready outlet in films, and sixty major scores gave him the finance to continue writing for the concert hall. The present disc displays a composer who could produce the most gorgeous melodies, the opening movement of the Violin Sonatina from 1933 containing one that almost irritatingly lodges itself in the memory (track 11), while the ten minute Piano Quartet Rhapsody completed in 1939 has large sweeping statements that are so listener friendly. There is much joy here, even in the bleak prospect of the Three Winter Poems, a score that equally captures the capricious moods of that season. His writing for the voice was equally assured - his opera, Miss Julie being one of the most disgracefully neglected British stage works - while his Ballade explores that fruity sound of the viola. Much of the music is not easy to perform, but here it has a superb roster of musicians, with Madeleine Mitchell always impressing me as the best violinist in the UK today. I equally enjoy the Bridge String Quartet in the Winter Poems, while the much experienced Jeremy Huw Williams is ideal for the two groups of songs. All recorded at the same venue, the recording is in the superlative class.

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