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This wartime Sonata also manifests a spiritual affinity with the large-scale and often elegiac Symphony that Benjamin was about to begin composing, and it contains the bleakest and perhaps the most deeply felt music in the composer's output. The opening E minor Elegy is a chill and desolate meditation whose vein of dissonance and chromatic disquiet are reminiscent of Alban Berg or Frank Bridge; the central section has sinister march music in F sharp minor, driving to an Appassionato e largamente climax with sonorous viola octaves. The transition to the central Waltz, starting with a brief rhapsodic cadenza and then pitting viola pizzicato against piano trills, is powerfully and imaginatively achieved, and the waltz music itself, marked quasi improvisatore and con morbidezza, is a phosphorescent and fretful affair that sustains the dark mood of the opening movement, the viola’s circling triplets suggesting a moth beating its wings against a window, unable to escape. Against it Benjamin juxtaposes a quicker, frostily glittering episode, quoting the urgent march theme, that starts up as if offering a would-be playful contrast, but rapidly turns hectic and sinister, stopping just short of catastrophe. The reprise of the waltz music also refers to the opening Elegy in its impassioned transition to the finale. This is the Toccata, which begins in powerful, almost mechanistic style but soon turns into a chattery and boisterously dancing piece that gives both performers a strenuous work-out while overturning the prevailing moods of the previous two movements and replacing them with one of pugnacious but basically good-humoured determination. The music culminates with a breathtaking coda in E major. This masterly work is one of the finest viola sonatas of the twentieth century.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2014
|Benjamin: Violin Sonatina & Viola Sonata|
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