Personal appreciation sent by John Belcher (Chairman of the Rawsthorne Trust) and Andrew Knowles (William Alwyn Foundation)
The Fibonacci’s superlative performances preserved in their commercial recording of the two Rawsthorne works established a benchmark: that quality was repeated for the benefit of the Oxford audience. The Sonatina for flute, oboe and piano is an early work, dating from 1936, in which Rawsthorne’s notable skill in writing for wind instruments is already apparent as, from the very first bars, is his distinctive voice. The demands placed on the pianist also betray the fact that he was himself an accomplished pianist. Great fluency is required of all the players in a work, which in the opening movement has a contemplative and improvisatory quality, and in the brilliant, headlong, Presto final movement where a breathless dialogue is conducted between the three members of the trio. The copious syncopated twists and turns were executed with nimble facility.
The Suite for flute, viola and harp of 1968 is a late work much concerned with exploring the subtle sonorities of which this combination is capable. These were realized in a performance of much delicacy, intimacy and poise. The employment of a harp can often raise the expectation of showy writing, not so here, it contains but one glissando at the close of the first of its three movements. It is well integrated into the overall texture, whether in the capacity of accompanist or in the few passages where it has a solo function. On the page the writing looks pianistic but in the hands of Gillian Tingay this emerged as idiomatic harp writing.
The three works by William Alwyn come from varying stages in his output. Cricketty Mill for Piano Solo is a fairly early work dating from 1935 and forms the second of two piano pieces that he composed for his friend the pianist Hugo Anson. This charming and descriptive piece, a short tone poem in all but name describes a small mill south west of Bisley village in the Cotswold area on the stream that flows down to join the Toadsmoor brook. The piece is very impressionistic in the manner of Debussy and Kathron Sturrock in her fluid playing conveyed the mood of the piece in a seemingly effortless manner most perfectly. Apart from a performance in August of this year the piece has not been heard for seventy years!
The short three-movement Suite for Oboe and Harp was composed between 1944-45 for Leon and Sidonie Goossens who gave the first performance on 25th August 1946 from the concert hall of BBC Broadcasting House. The three movements are entitled Minuet, Valse Miniature and Jig. Written whilst still in the depths of the 2nd World War the work belies the time in which it was composed being a sunny and somewhat nostalgic evocation of an England long past. In the very capable hands of Christopher O’Neal (Oboe) and Gillian Tingay (Harp) the mood was tellingly conveyed to an appreciative audience.
The Fantasy-Sonata Naiades for Flute and Harp was written for Christopher Hyde-Smith and Marisa Robles and first performed by them at the Bath Festival in May 1971. This highly evocative work was inspired by the composer’s view of the marshes and sea birds which inhabit the River Blyth in the Suffolk village of Blythbough where Alwyn lived. Again, another tone poem in all but name which, however remains ‘absolute’ music exploring the full technical resonances of both instruments. The affecting interplay of both instruments was beautifully realised by Ileana Ruhemann (flute) and Gillian Tingay (harp) whose sensitive playing conveyed to perfection all the nuances of this charming work to an enraptured audience.