Madeleine Mitchell / London Chamber Ensemble

Grace Williams: Chamber Music

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The music of Welsh composer Grace Williams is not well known outside Britain, and these chamber works -- all recorded here for the first time -- not even there. She did not help her own cause by declaring some of her chamber music not worth performing, but these are major rediscoveries by violinist Madeleine Mitchell. She wrote the booklet notes, apparently in both English and Welsh, herself. Williams was a student of Ralph Vaughan Williams in the 1920s (among her classmates was Imogen Holst), and her music shows his influence in the best way: his spirit shows through even as she draws on other music and creates a style of her own. That style shows affinities with continental neoclassicism, occasionally with Bartók and Shostakovich, and with Britten. The Sextet for oboe, trumpet, violin, violoncello, and pianoforte of 1931 was sent to that composer, shows his influence, and was one of the few among her chamber works whose virtues the composer proclaimed. Sample the second movement, an elegant essay in seconds and fifths. Williams expertly handles the larger chamber groups there and in the Stravinskian Suite for Nine Instruments, creating unexpected sonorities throughout. The works Williams wrote after World War II, which took a toll on her mental health, seem to be by turns extremely experimental (the Sarabande for piano left hand of 1958, which ought to enter the left-hand repertory immediately) or more pastoral than previously (the Rondo for Dancing for two violins and optional cello, 1970, which is the only one of the whole bunch that does sound like Vaughan Williams). Mitchell assembles a fine collection of chamber players in what is obviously a labor of love. Brava!

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