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If ever there was a question as to whether there is a mid 20th-century British style, this album is the answer: it is a distinctive sound that derives partly from Brahms via Elgar and Stanford, partly from Ravel and Fauré. Walton’s two movement sonata is the most substantial work here, written in 1948 for Menuhin and Louis Kentner. Kenneth Leighton’s first sonata, from a decade earlier, is a serious essay too. The other composers did not seem to have the inclination to develop their interesting ideas for violin and piano into stronger pieces (Berkeley wrote two full sonatas in his 20s but then abandoned the form). They are polished and professional but amount to not very much.

Walton wrote his sonata in one of the more turbulent emotional periods of his life and Howick catches this well in the first movement, a sort of Romantic fretfulness where the lyricism is undermined. The second movement variations are less troubled and Howick glides through them, as she does the engaging 10 minutes of Alwyn’s sonatina, though here and in the other pieces there are moments when a sweeter tone, steadier bow and more exact intonation would have been welcome. Simon Callaghan accompanies diligently but he is kept firmly in the background and given a boxed-in sound.

The most interesting work is Leighton’s, written just pre-war when he was only 19. Even so it feels old-fashioned for its time but it has, in the restless opening Allegro and deeply felt Lento that follows, like the Walton, something urgent to say beyond the clever stitching together of material. It shows what an underrated composer Leighton still is. I had not heard this sonata before but it will be revisited and Howick has been right to draw attention to it, though hers should not be the last word.

Simon Mundy Read the full review on Agora Classica


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