Chester 1923


(1984, CD )



Musical Times, Feb 1923


Further Writing







Violin Sonata (1923)

Allegro non troppo
Vivace e molto ritmico


Moeran's Sonata for Violin and Piano premiered at the same concert at London's Wigmore Hall as the First String Quartet, written in 1921, and of the two seemed to get the better reception, the reviewer in the Musical Times commenting~ "the Allegro of the Sonata shows a great advance, for its impetuosity is not hampered by technical obligations, although these are met as consciously as we have a right to expect in a modern sonata"

Geoffrey Self describes the work as having "a thrusting passion", and goes on to suggest that, were it not for the influence of Peter Warlock, this work may well point the direction in which Moeran's music would have headed. The music certainly is thrusting and passionate, and displays a level of dissonance greater than much of his output. At first hearing one might find it hard to recognise as a work by Moeran, until a few chinks of typical lyricism find their way out, moments of vaguely folk-like music. But easy-listening it ain't.

There's an intense brooding surrounding the first movement, in its relentless minor key augmented by broad Ireland-esque chromatic piano accompaniment. This is leavened by the second subject somewhat - providing those chinks of daylight - before finally ending in a whirling frenzy up towards a quite unexpected major chord.

The brooding is intensified in the slow second movement, though again Moeran uses a contrasting second subject, this time with a pronounced Aeolian mode accent to bring relief from the dissonant chromaticism that runs through most of the material. A characteristic of much of Moeran's music throughout his life is a section of wonderfully bright, lyrical music, radiant with warm sunlight, suddenly having a shadow cast over it and turning dark, even bitter. This seems to be operating in reverse in this piece. The moments of light are brief, and bring the dark, rugged edges of the majority of the music into a kind of relief.

The final movement, a "complex and energetic rondo" (Self) launches itself with great vigour. Elsewhere in Moeran's work a theme in 9/8 time might be expected to rapidly evolve into some kind of jig; the tone here is jagged. Self suggests an inspiration in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and in the pounding rhythms of the final movement this comparison seems more than justified. The harmonies too are among the harshest Moeran ever wrote, leading a reviewer in 1924 to plead: "must we really have ninths and ninths all the way...?".

At around eighteen minutes the Violin Sonata is not a long work, and is perhaps unfairly neglected. Self cites it as Moeran's first real masterpiece, the culmination of his student days, a piece apart from his other early work. As both a violinist and pianist, perhaps it's to be expected that Moeran would be able to write well for the combination, and it's a real pity he was apparently never inspired to try his hand at a second such work.

It seems hard to come by recordings of it, though the 1982 Chandos recording by Donald Scotts and John Talbot (CHAN 8465) is worth tracking down. Be warned, however - if you've heard the two more recent recordings of the First String Quartet that accompany the Sonata on this disc you may well be disappointed with the somewhat lumpen rendition given here by the Melbourne Quartet.



The moments of light are brief, and bring the dark, rugged edges of the majority of the music into a kind of relief...

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