Fine performances of some of Rawsthorne’s finest yet most neglected chamber music
Alan Rawsthorne’s Theme and Variations for two violins not only ranks as one of his masterpieces, but can also be considered as amongst the finest string writing for violin duo this century. One of the major strengths of the work lies in the equality of writing and invention in the two solo parts and the way in which Rawsthorne treats the material as an homogenous whole rather than two separate contrapuntal strands. Quite why the work has been so neglected by virtuosi is something of a mystery, which makes this new and exceptionally fine account by Peter Sheppard Skærved and Christine Sohn all the more welcome. Another Rawsthorne work that deserves much wider recognition is the Violin Sonata of1958. Originally written for Joseph Szigeti (though regrettably never performed by him) the sonata is full of invention and memorable ideas whilst at the same time conveyed with the most economical of means. Skærved and pianist Tamam iHonma give us a particularly thoughtful, spirited reading of this important Rawsthorne work. The music of John McCabe (himself a long-time champion and biographer of Rawsthorne) makes an ideal coupling. Indeed, the Star Preludes for violin and piano of 1978 appears to draw a certain degree of inspiration from Rawsthorne’s Violin Sonata, especially in its opening and closing pages. Maze Dances for solo violin dates from 1973 and is in effect a kind of modern day manifestation the Zigeuner-style – an intense, narrative fantasy, brilliantly performed here by Skærved, that grips the listener from first note to last. Good recording. A must for all admirers of Rawsthorne’s music.

—Michael Stewart