William Alwyn
Fantasy Waltzes
Funeral Rites for the Death of an Artist
Bicycle Ride
Piece for Piano
Sonata alla Toccata
The Weather Vane
Doreen Carwithen
Sonatina
Mark Bebbington (piano)

Recorded 12 & 13 August 2013 in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England
CD No: SOMM
SOMMCD 0133
Duration: 73 minutes
Reviewed: January 2014
Mr and Mrs William Alwyn! Husband and wife from 1961 until his death, she was his second marriage and both were English composers, embracing the concert hall and the film studio. Alwyn (1905-85) and Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003), she used her second name, Mary, when she married Alwyn. Here they continue to share, through their piano music, and are literally in the good hands of Mark Bebbington.
Leaving aside how this disc (and the booklet) is laid out, and with no mention of her name on the cover, I anyway went first to Carwithen’s Sonatina (completed in 1946), a really fine compact three-movement achievement, here recorded for the first time (as are other pieces), the outer movements being lively, busy and always interesting. Placed centrally the Molto adagio is rarefied and poetic, with something about John Ireland to it, and with a soupcon of Frenchness. It’s a really good piece, played with dedication and insight by Bebbington. And Alwyn’s own bright and inventive Sonata alla Toccata (also finished in 1946, an uncanny alchemy between the two composers seems to have been at work here!) is of similar size, shape and feeling, never predictable, intriguingly diverting, and touching the soul in the second-movement Andante.
Following these excellent discoveries, the remainder of this ‘otherwise Alwyn’ release is of miniatures. Funeral Rites for the Death of an Artist (1931) is a rather dour and dark essay for someone not revealed, while the 90-second Bicycle Ride (1952) is as outdoors and spring-day as the title suggests. Piece for Piano (1940) is rather enigmatic and invites further listening. The Weather Vane (1931) consists of five tiny movements playing for four minutes, with titles such as ‘The West Wind’ and ‘The Sunny South’; an affable and scenic collection.
It could be said that each of the Fantasy Waltzes (1955) are also miniatures, the longest two are both five minutes, but collectively (and that was the composer’s intention) the eleven pieces make quite a cycle. In what is probably Alwyn’s best-known piano music (championed by John Ogdon, for example) there is an element of parody present, not just in the (Viennese) waltz rhythms themselves but also in reminders of other composers, notably Ravel and his Valses nobles et sentimentales. The variety of expression to be savoured during this set is considerable; the lyric-piece homage to Edvard Grieg in FW 3 broods, for example. Elsewhere, the Fantasy aspect is always apparent, conjuring night and day, painting pictures, and alluring as well as enlivening the listener, Alwyn also digging deep into emotional possibilities.
Mark Bebbington is once again an expert and sympathetic guide to some appealing music and in bringing Alwyn and Carwithen to our attention he continues his notable series of recordings for Somm.

 

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