Thwaites and Alwyn CDs reviewed


THWAITES: Sampson, Gilchrist, Dazeley, Thwaites, Ex Cathedra (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0162) ★★★★

Penelope Thwaites (b.1944) is best known as a concert pianist and an advocate, both as author and performer, of Percy Grainger's music. She's also had a parallel career as a composer – including a West End musical Ride! Ride! – and this disc gathers together choral music and songs inspired by her travels. The major work here is a fifteen minute Missa Brevis; its open-hearted vitality, joy and simplicity – the art that conceals art – works in a similar way to the popular works of Rutter and Goodall. There's a lovely performance by Ex Cathedra under Jeffrey Skidmore – the Gloria, with Carolyn Sampson (soprano) and James Gilchrist (tenor) is irresistible. The Five Shakespeare Songs are individually characterized; When Icicles Hang on the Wall, with Thwaite's opening cool, creepy piano chords, particularly so. Of the shorter pieces Walkabout shows Thwaites' gift for a catchy tune, with Sampson as pop chanteuse. First rate recording quality.

Norman Stinchcombe

ALWYN, STRING QUARTETS: Villiers Quartet (Lyrita SRCD.386) ★★★★

William Alwyn (1905-1985) is best remembered for his film music but also composed concertos, five symphonies and sixteen string quartets. He was precocious, joining the Royal Academy of Music at fifteen and being appointed a Professor of Composition at twenty-one. The four string quartets on this disc are a young man's music, composed between 1927-1931, while the jolly lightweight Seven Irish Tunes for String Quartet is a student work and was performed in 1923. It seems the quartets were not performed until the Villiers Quartet played 8 and 9 in 2018 so this splendidly played this disc of premiere recordings is very welcome. Each quartet is shot through with a dark emotional tinge: the rustic drollery of the E Minor Quartet disconcertingly ends pianissimo while the A major work concludes in sepulchral icy darkness. The single movement No.9, inspired by the despair of Shakespeare's Romeo gets a grippingly powerful performance.

Norman Stinchcombe

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