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Chamber Music: Clarinet Sonata / Oboe Sonata

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, August 31, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

Among British composer William Alwyn' large body of work, including five symphonies, concertos for flute, oboe, violin, harp, piano, and many shorter orchestral works, there is a significant amount of chamber and instrumental music. This disc presents six
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (August 31, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B003RCFCRY
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,733 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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William Alwyn (1905-1981) was a prolific composer who penned some 300 "serious" works including symphonies, concertos, songs, opera, chamber and instrumental pieces. In addition to this, he was a successful writer of soundtracks with nearly 200 film scores to his credit. He showed remarkable talent early on and was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 21, a position he held until 1955. Although by the 1930's Alwyn was regarded as a successful avante garde composer, he became dissatisfied with his compositional style and ultimately disowned everything he had written prior to 1939.

While Alwyn may have "disowned" his early works, on the evidence of the Sonatina for viola and piano (1933) and Sonata for oboe and piano (1934) included in this chamber music compilation, it's fortunate for us that he didn't destroy them. Remarkably enough, this is the first time that the Sonatina, a really lovely work, has been recorded. The Sonata for oboe and piano from 1934 is even more appealing: fifteen minutes of music that's gorgeous from beginning to end. The brief Suite for Oboe and Harp (1945) is also very attractive, with hints of Irish and Celtic folk melodies. The Clarinet sonata (1962), which opens the program, is twelve minutes in length and in one movement. Alwyn called it a "fantasy sonata," and aptly so considering the almost improvisatory nature of the music. The String Trio (1959) and Conversations (1950; originally titled "Music for Three Players) round out this fine program of Alwyn chamber music.
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The new Naxos recording of the chamber music of William Alwyn (Naxos 8.572425) is the latest in a series that catalogues the mid-twentieth century master and is a gem! Alwyn came from a family that had no musical background at all. His father, in fact, was a grocer and yet the family frequently talked about great literature and young William developed great skills as a flutist, pianist and, then, composer from his early school years. He later graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, joining their faculty at the age of 21! He left a large body of works, from several symphonies to small chamber works, like those heard here. These works, and this recording, are quite beautiful all around. The Sonata for Clarinet & Piano (1962) is a single extended movement work written in a flowing, yet bravura, style. It is rhapsodic, full of runs and flourishes of all sorts, ending quite dramatically. Originally written for Thea King, it is wonderfully performed here by Robert Plane, principal clarinet of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and pianist, Sophia Rahma, a highly skilled accompanist known throughout England. The Sonata for Oboe from 1934 opens with a lovely oscillating piano part under a lilting, sometimes jaunty, oboe melody. The first movement flows, somewhat impressionistically, into the middle andantino that has an almost chorale feel to it. The work concludes with a short, tuneful waltz that dissolves into a tranquil coda. The Sonatina for Viola & Piano (1941) opens a bit darkly, followed by a spritely dance. The aria movement is particularly beautiful and the work concludes with a brilliant, virtuostic finale. Lucy Gould, violist, masters the mood and demand of this master work.Read more ›
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To be perfectly honest, I have to admit that William Alwyn was at his best when he had a full orchestra at his disposal. This is still an interesting release of his chamber music, however, and it spans his creative life providing insight into his stylistic development. The earliest work, the Oboe Sonata from 1934, predates the composer's 1939 decision to disown most of his earlier works - and is, together with the viola sonatina, the work on this disc that is not available in other performances. The sonata is pastoral in character, with an introverted (and not particularly grazioso), big first movement, a characterful, delicate andantino and a lively if inconsequential final movement. The whole work is easy, mellow on the ear and eminently agreeable if not particularly memorable.

The viola sonata (1941) is, despite its title and relatively modest length, a substantial four-movement work, with a reflective prelude, a slightly troubled, quiet dance and a lovely slow movement before concluding with a life-affirming, joyous finale. The delightful, short suite for oboe and harp (1945) is melancholic, touched by folk-song, and generally extremely attractive without saying too much. The Conversations (1950), for clarinet, violin and piano, was originally titled "Music for Three Players". It is indeed conversational and discursive in character and modestly enjoyable and variegated as such, but it is clear that the conversation partners didn't really have much very interesting to say.

The string trio (1959) is more forbidding and experimental in character. Based on a 12-tone row, which is manipulated and cut apart over the span of the work, it is a contrastive and somewhat conflict-filled work only resolved in the serene coda.
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