Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"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.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A major masterpiece from an important composer



Rebecca Clarke isn't quite a household name, but her 1919 Sonata for Viola and Piano has certainly hit a chord with the record-buying public, not to mention violists and their accompanists. A few months ago I counted 18 CDs featuring this fine work, and now we have another, with this new performance of the composer's own version for cello and piano. This vital, robust work is certainly worth the attention it gets, and it sounds great in this different guise. Cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist John York provide a fresh and lively take on the music, and through a close partnership and re-balancing of component parts, they've proven the viability of the music for these forces.

But this isn't the most important work on this new CD from Lyrita. Rather, it's the Rhapsody for cello and piano which Clarke wrote in 1923. This is as assured a work as the Viola Sonata, but in a more modernist style; York in this fine liner notes mentions Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin. I'm not really sure what to make of Clarke's choice of title, since this four-movement piece in sonata form isn't especially free in form or over-extravagant in style. It's only somewhat a Rhapsody in the English country-side folklore sense. The composer works more in that genre in some of the shorter pieces on this disc, especially the piece based on the Scottish song I'll bid my heart be still, though even there one hears as much Paris as the Highlands. Whatever it's called, though, the Rhapsody rises above even the Viola Sonata, and deserves much more attention than it's been able to get without a proper published score. Hopefully the upcoming performing edition by John York, with the support of the Rebecca Clarke Foundation, will bring the Rhapsody to more concerts, discs and streaming services in the future.

I love the idea of including newly composed pieces to a musical program of works by dead composers, especially if there's an interaction between the two. John York's Dialogue with Rebecca Clarke, originally written in 2007 for viola and piano, is an exploration of favourite themes and characteristic stylistic devices of Clarke, matched with York's own responses from a post-Clarke perspective. This is a sincere and musically interesting tribute which, like the especially committed playing of Wallfisch and York, must surely win Rebecca Clarke new admirers.

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