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5.0 out of 5 stars Benjamin Dale chamber works, 31 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Complete Music For Violin And Piano (Mcaslan, Dussek) (Audio CD)
Like his contemporary, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale, born in London in 1885, was the blue-eyed boy of the moment, showing prodigious talent from an early age (his Overture "Horatius" was premiered when he was just fourteen years old). He was a protege of Frederick Corder at the RAM, and became something of a "cause celebre" after writing a huge piano sonata while still at college. But, technically accomplished though he was, he wrote in a conservative idiom (along with Bowen, Holbrooke, and others from the RAM - Bax was a welcome exception), and his music went out of fashion. This Dutton CD of Dale's complete music for violin and piano, however, gives the listener an opportunity to assess something of the composer's chamber output.

Taking centre-stage, and weighing in at a hefty forty minutes, is the Sonata of 1922. The first movement begins with a lyrical, distinctly Elgarian theme, instrumental to the work as a whole, which sets the romantic, somewhat elegiac tone. The tempo and intensity increase throughout the middle of the movement before subsiding to a return of the opening mood. Thw second movement is in the form of a theme and variations, with the final variation, Introduction and Finale, serving as the third movement. It has been suggested that this work evokes nostalgia for the idyllic years prior to the First World War, and the overall mood of the music would certainly support this view.

The remaining pieces are on a much smaller scale, and were all written during the decade 1916-26. Two of these - English Dance and Prunella - were composed during Dale's internment in Ruhleben, the prison camp set up by the Germans during the war in order to detain non-combatants from enemy countries. The short English Dance (1916) is simple in form, consisting of a lyrical theme interrupted by a more robust rustic middle section, although its "Englishness" is not that of RVW or Holst. Even shorter is Prunella (1917) which seems to have started life as incidental music to one of the many plays staged by the prisoners at Ruhleben. Holiday Tune (1922) is essentailly a brisk march with a slower section, written as a test piece for the Associated Board.

Rather more substantial is Ballade (1926), Dale's last piece for solo strings. It is basically in ternary form, with a slow, poetic introduction, and a more animated development before a return to the deeply-felt lyricism of the opening.

Dale is one of the lost generation of English composers briefly active between the wars. His style is perhaps somewhat dated to modern ears, and his music may not be to everyone's taste. However, we can be grateful to Dutton for giving us the opportunity to form our own judgement, and to Lorraine McAslan (violin) and Michael Dussek (piano) for their sympathetic and persuasive expositions of the works on offer.
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