"...dazzlingly good chamber ensemble…
exuberantly expressive, intimate style…
gorgeously idiomatic playing’
The Times
Rawsthorne Chamber Music

The first item, Concerto for Ten Instruments (1961), makes a most fitting introduction to this collection. Within the first bars the listener will become aware of the standards of playing, which are maintained throughout the CD, and also depth and warmth of the recorded sound. The only member of the Fibonacci Sequence absent in this piece is its pianist Kathron Sturrock. Here concerto means a composition in which several performers of contrasted forces come together to play, in this case a wind quintet and string quartet combine. This combination gives Rawsthome a palette with which to produce a variety of colourful combinations, which he does with his customary imagination and fastidious clarity. The Symphonic Studies demonstrated his fluent handling of the winds, and this work recalls that early facility.

The style of the opening of the Preludio is neoclassical, reminding one of the assertive statements in Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks. This middle of the movement settles down to ruminative argument, using the more middle tones and sombre colours from his palette. The second movement, an andante, further extends the range of colours by the introduction of the cor anglais. The motivic elements of the opening movement give way to lines of melody, with, at one point, decoration of the melody echoing the 'water' music which Rawsthome wrote for film The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (1953). The third movement, a scherzo, is propelled by alternating two and five beat measures, a device similar to that which drives the scherzo in the First Svmphony (1950). The last movement, a sombre Lento sostenuto, inhabits the half light. After the first performance one critic was moved to write "Mr Rawsthome has entirely succeeded in his stated aim; 'not so much to contrast the timbres of the string ensemble with that of wind, as to evolve passages in which the two mingle in a colourful whole.'.... I have heard no lovelier concluding sonorities since the final bars of Stravinsky's Octet." The composer's intentions are fully realised here in committed and elegant playing

The early Sonatina for flute. oboe and piano (1936) reveals Rawsthorne's distinctive voice well on its way to being established. The overall impression left is that in performance this is a more substantial work than the one which appears on paper. This must, in part, be due to the élan of the playing in the outer movements.

The Quintet for clarinet. horn. violin. 'cello and piano (1970) was the composer's last completed composition. The thinness of its scoring and the failure to explore fully the potential of the material together point to weariness in the composer. This is substantiated in contemporary correspondence in which he speaks of his failing health and being able to work only slowly. In the course of its sectionalized single movement form, its pervading austerity is occasionally shot through with moments of beauty assembled from the instrumental combinations. As in the previous piece, the players lavish attention on the music.

The Suite for flute. viola and harp (1968), which follows, conveys the listener into a very different sound world. In his Sonata for the same combination Debussy showed the ability of this ensemble to charm; Rawsthorne does no less. Though a slight work, it is valuable for the demonstration of the composer's ability to succeed in yet another genre. The presence of the dance is inherent in the three movements, a shadowy and fleeting appearance of a waltz in the middle Intermezzo, is reminiscent of a similar ephemeral episode in the scherzo of the Third Symphony (1964). The final movement is an energetic, though decorous, bucolic dance, one of a less clodhopping variety than that found in the 'County Dance' 'of the Second Symphony (1958). Rawsthorne makes discrete, economic and telling use of the harp in his orchestral scores to provide subtle touches of colour or to add flavour the texture of sound. In the accompanying passages of this work we find those characteristic uses again. There are also solo episodes, and though in the score these are laid out like his piano writing, in execution they sound at home on the harp. It is rewarding to have such a good performance of this entertaining piece in the catalogue for the first time.

The final work is the Quintet for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano (1962-63). This is the most important piece on the CD, it also places the toughest demands on the performers. Here it is possible to make a direct comparison with a previous recording, the 1968 Argo L.P. by the Music Group of London. Their performance is one which lurks in the shadows; the new one brings it into the full glare of the light. It is obvious that this will owe something of the difference in age and medium of recording, yet it is also there in the interpretation of the directions of the composer. This becomes immediately apparent in the response to the languido direction appended to the opening of the first movement. The Music Group of London provide the drowsy quality of a hot summer day, the Fibonacci are less affected by the heat and show a greater degree of alertness, without entirely losing the languor. The lontano and piano markings in the wind parts are more fully realised by the London Music Group. Where the Fibonacci have the edge is in the declamatory writing. Here the recorded sound is full-bodied and makes space between the instruments in contrasts with the thin and amorphous sound on Argo.

The aura of the sad and reflective opening of the second movement benefits again from the veiled qualities of the Argo recording and careful attention to the markings. However when it comes to the forthright writing later on, the 'orchestral' character of the ASV sound tells, especially in the quality of the horn playing - in the Argo recording this is distinctly pallid.

The exceptionally difficult scherzo movement is marked poco misterioso, observed more fully in the Argo version, though not entirely absent in the new performance, where this quality is better realised in the wind parts than the piano, though this may be a matter of recorded balance. Both pianists acquit themselves with distinction in the unrelentingly demanding part.

In the final movement the new version is a clear winner. The Bartókian Allegro risoluto is given a dazzling, bravura performance in which all the players distinguish themselves, yet where Kathron Sturrock's playing of the piano part must be singled out for special praise.

Altogether a most important and valuable work to have back in the catalogue after so many years of absence. This is a work which repeated listening and study will reveal its subtleties and excellence. The clarity of this new version will make that rewarding.

This is a very valuable addition to the growing list of recordings of Rawsthorne's chamber music, especially valuable for the range of works it includes and the quality of the performances and recorded sound. The Rawsthorne Trust's investment has been well rewarded by this group of gifted, young musicians.

Reviewer

John Belcher