Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A fine recording of a chamber music classic

Rebecca Clarke's Viola Sonata has been extraordinarily well represented on disc. Here are the violists who I came up with in a quick search:
  1. Matthew Jones, Naxos
  2. Philip Dukes, Naxos
  3. Vladimir Bukac, Calliope
  4. Tabea Zimmermann, Myrios
  5. Konstantin Selheim, Musicaphon
  6. Barbara Westphal, Bridge
  7. Barbara Buntrock, Avi
  8. Yizhak Schotten, Crystal
  9. Naoko Shimizu, Meister
  10. Christine Rutledge, Centaur
  11. Robert Glazer, Centaur
  12. Adrien La Marca, La Dolce Volta
  13. Peijun Xu, Ars Production
  14. Vidor Nagy, Audite
  15. Garfield Jackson, ASV
  16. Philip Dukes, Gamut
  17. Helen Callus, ASV
That's a lot! Shostakovich's Viola Sonata may have more, but I don't imagine there are any others from the 20th century with as many. Ernest Bloch's fine Viola Sonata, which tied with Clarke's in the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival's competition organized by the great music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, has only half a dozen.

It's no wonder this is such a popular work. It's a compact, expressive work, alternately intense and tender. It has the shifting harmonies and complex rhythms of Debussy. And it's beautifully played by Duo Runya, violist Diana Bonatesta and her pianist sister Arianna. The disc is well-filled with interesting shorter pieces that show off Clarke's versatility and charm. A highlight is the Passacaglia on an Old English Tune (by Tallis), which is reminiscent of one of the staples of the violist's repertoire, Johan Halvorsen's 1893 arrangement for violin and viola of a Handel Passacaglia.

There are a number of non-interpretive things I found really special about this disc. The first is the outstanding essay by Elisabetta Righini in the liner notes, a model of an in-depth study of a composer that many might not know well. Righini acknowledges the work of the Rebecca Clarke Society in her well-researched essay; those wanting to learn more should check out their website. Kudos should go as well to Beverley K. Drabsch for her fluent, idiomatic translation. Let's face it, record companies don't always get this particular facet of the recording process 100% right. And the recording is outstanding. Alessandro Simonetto's production and engineering follows Aevea's philosophy of minimum technical involvement in the project once the performances are complete. This entire project is a major accomplishment, a happy combination of musical talent, marketing and technology that will only boost the rapidly growing reputation of Rebecca Clarke.

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