Sunday, 25 January 2009

William Lloyd Webber: Viola Sonatina

The first performance of this quite gorgeous work was not until February 1995. The programme notes relate that the reviewer in the Strad Magazine insisted that all violists “seize on it with delight.” I am not convinced that his has altogether happened. In fact there is only one recording of this work currently available - that by Philip Dukes and Sophia Rahman which was made in the August of that year.
Like with virtually all William Lloyd Webber’s music I find it hard to understand why it does not seem to have captured the public imagination. I do recall Classic FM having a little fad for his music a few years ago – with his Invocation and Serenade for Strings appearing quite regularly.
The Viola Sonatina was composed in 1952 and was especially written for John Yewe Dyer who was the viola player in, and founder member of, the once famous Menges Quartet.

In the post-war years William Lloyd Webber composed a small number of important works. From this period were the oratorio ‘St. Francis of Assisi’, the orchestral tone poem Aurora, the Three Spring Miniatures for piano, a Sonata for flute and piano and the present work. There were also a number of songs, organ pieces and ecclesiastical works.

The two things that define the opening ‘allegro comodo’ are the long melodic phrases on the viola and the often complex and abrupt harmonic changes. This is music that can barely contain itself within the limitations of its notional form. However the balance of the parts is near perfect and the listener is carried to the enigmatic close without losing interest or more to the point comprehension.
The slow movement, a ‘larghetto e molto sostenuto’ is the heart of the work. Lloyd Webber has taken what at first sight appears to have possibilities as a folk-tune and proceeds to develop this into a profound meditation that is full of darkness and foreboding. There is little to ease the heart here – except perhaps for passages in the beautiful piano accompaniment towards the end of the movement.
However the mood changes dramatically for the ‘vivo’ finale. All care, or at least nearly all care is cast aside. However, some of this music is quite acerbic for listeners who are only aware of Lloyd Webber’s Serenade for Strings. It is surely a prime example which shows that in spite of criticism to the contrary, the composer had not totally disengaged from ‘modern trends’. However the big tune given by the soloist just before the coda is of Elgarian breadth and gives this finale considerable stature.


In spite of the fact that it would be easy to try to categorise this music in terms of being 'retro’ when it was composed, or that it is easy to see the influence of Rachmaninov, Franck, Delius Elgar or anyone else for that matter, this is a fine work that is full of meaning, depth and expression.
It could easily be argues that this is hardly a Sonatina but more of a short Sonata. It is a great work that deserves its place in the viola and piano repertoire.

Listen to Paul Dukes and Sophia Rahman play this work on ASV CD DCA 961

1 comment:

David M. Bynog said...

I heartily agree and thought that the work was unpublished, hence the reason it was still not being performed. I see that Stainer and Bell did release this. Vist http://www.stainer.co.uk/acatalog/index.html if you would like to purchase this great work.