Classical Music Home

The World's Leading Classical Music Group

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?
Keyword Search
in
 
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews



 
See latest reviews of other albums...

Julian Haylock
The Strad, May 2007

Paul Cortese recently included Rebecca Clarke's Lullaby and Grotesque (enchanting miniatures, beautifully written) on a Crystal Records recital, although this extensive Naxos collection gives us a better opportunity to assess the composer's overall achievement. Clarke was, of course, a fine violinist herself yet, as Liane Curtis points out in her expert booklet notes, only the popular Sonata, the Passacaglia (an old English tune) and Chinese Puzzle (a delightful piece of miniature chinoisoerie) were actually published during her lifetime.

Other pieces featured in this programme include two lullabies (one an elegiac pastoral, the other,'on an Ancient Irish Tune', less soothing in tone), a haunting ten-minute Dukma, in which Philip Dukes is joined by distinguished violinist Daniel Hope, and the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale (the focus of a 1999 article in The Strad) for viola and clarinet, with Robert Plane on fine form.

This is music that gives up its secrets to only the most gifted. Any attempts to try to align Clarke's work with the Romantic tradition from which it sprang would simply overload its refined, neo-Classical textures. Play it too cool, however, and one runs the risk of crusting over its molten core of bittersweet nostalgia. All of which makes these particular performances doubly remarkable for keeping such a sure hand on the emotional tiller of each work.

Both technically and musically, these are exceptional accounts, with Dukes producing the most alluring sound throughout the register, counterpointed by Sophia Rahman's beguiling pianism and Michael Ponter's exemplary engineering. Another Naxos winner.



Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, March 2007

With the Naxos label’s worldwide marketing strength it would be no surprise to me if this release helped to spark a resurgence of international interest in the music of Rebecca Clarke. The issue certainly has a considerable number of positive features, not least the wonderful Viola Sonata which is the featured work and also the exceptionally talented group of performers. Evidently this is the world premiere recording of the ‘Untitled Piece for viola and piano. 

It seems strange that this issue was not was released as part of Naxos’s ‘20th Century British Music’ series as were the recent releases of viola works on 8.557784 and violin sonatas on 8.557540 from Clarke’s close contemporary Arnold Bax. Maybe it was because Clarke, English-born in Harrow, spent a significant amount of her adult life in the USA and had dual nationality.

Clarke is primarily remembered as a contemporary of the eminent English-born composers Vaughan Williams and Holst, who were also pupils of Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London, with whom Clarke studied as his first female composition pupil. There was some critical success afforded to Clarke in her lifetime. In 1919 Clarke’s Viola Sonata just failed by the patron’s casting vote to win first prize at the prestigious Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Sadly Clarke was unable to sustain what she called her, “… little whiff of success …” In 1939, owing to her close family connections, she again visited the USA before the outbreak of war and ended up staying in the country for the rest of her life. In 1944 Clarke married the Scottish-born James Friskin who had also been a composition pupil of Stanford.

The Viola Sonata commences with a substantial movement marked Impetuoso. This opens with Dukes and Rahman providing a strong Celtic-style melody that feels like a martial rallying cry. Here one can easily hear Stanford’s influence. From 1:38 the mood changes to one of a mysterious yearning character. The atmosphere at 5:18 reverts to the boldness of the opening before at 7:02 becoming generally calm with a sense of exhaustion. I enjoyed the impressive playing in the short central movement Vivace. Here the unusual and colourful rhythms, that repeatedly change, provide a rather exotic feel. I cannot say that I experienced this movement as a, “… sprightly scherzo …” as described in the booklet notes. The lengthy closing movement, an Adagio, has that mysterious yearning quality of the Impetuoso. I noted the viola playing of Dukes briefly at 1:46 as uncomfortably jerky. Repeatedly the duo impressively builds up an aching intensity before finding more relaxing episodes of respite.

In these scores Clarke seems to have a signature style that I have previously described as having a “mysterious yearning” quality. This style applies largely to the Passacaglia; Lullaby; Lullaby on an Ancient Irish tune; Morpheus; I’II bid my heart be still; Untitled Piece and the Dumka Trio. These well-crafted works rather lack variety although they are still engaging leaving a considerable impression. The often mentioned comparisons to the sound-world of “English impressionism” is over-emphasised. I especially enjoyed this performance of the melancholy Passacaglia where they generate a considerable degree of tension. The players provide a high Celtic Baxian quality in the Lullaby; Lullaby on an Ancient Irish tune and the substantial Morpheus. The Dumka is reasonably interesting containing varied moods and some unusual rhythms.

The charming Chinese Puzzle, just as its title suggests, carries a traditional Chinese flavour, rather echoing a disc I have of authentic Chinese music to accompany Tai Chi. The Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale using the less usual combination of viola and clarinet has a spirited and edgy central Allegro flanked by slower outer movements and proves to be a fascinating score. The clarinet playing of Robert Plane is impressive with an especially pleasing timbre. In general the sound quality on this fairly closely recorded Naxos release is warm and clear with a decent balance. The informative and interesting booklet notes by Liane Curtis, President of the Rebecca Clarke Society serve the issue admirably.

There are several accounts of the Clarke Viola Sonata in the catalogues. I have been especially impressed with the 1993 recording from Paul Coletti and Leslie Howard on Hyperion Helios CDH55085 and also the 2001 version from Barbara Westphal and Jeffrey Swann on Bridge 9109. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but for information purposes other versions of the Viola Sonata include: Garfield Jackson and Martin Roscoe on ASV 932; Steven Dann and Bruce Vogt ‘Portrait of the Viola’ on CBC Records MVCD1072; Yizhak Schotten and Katherine Collier ‘Viola 1919’on Crystal Records CD637 and Helen Callus and Robert McDonald ‘A Portrait Of The Viola’ on ASV CDDCA1130.

This is a very splendidly performed and recorded disc from Naxos that will undoubtedly bring the music of Rebecca Clarke to a wider audience.



Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, March 2007

With the Naxos label’s worldwide marketing strength it would be no surprise to me if this release helped to spark a resurgence of international interest in the music of Rebecca Clarke. The issue certainly has a considerable number of positive features, not least the wonderful Viola Sonata which is the featured work and also the exceptionally talented group of performers. Evidently this is the world premiere recording of the ‘Untitled Piece for viola and piano. 

It seems strange that this issue was not was released as part of Naxos’s ‘20th Century British Music’ series as were the recent releases of viola works on 8.557784 and violin sonatas on 8.557540 from Clarke’s close contemporary Arnold Bax. Maybe it was because Clarke, English-born in Harrow, spent a significant amount of her adult life in the USA and had dual nationality.

Clarke is primarily remembered as a contemporary of the eminent English-born composers Vaughan Williams and Holst, who were also pupils of Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London, with whom Clarke studied as his first female composition pupil. There was some critical success afforded to Clarke in her lifetime. In 1919 Clarke’s Viola Sonata just failed by the patron’s casting vote to win first prize at the prestigious Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Sadly Clarke was unable to sustain what she called her, “… little whiff of success …” In 1939, owing to her close family connections, she again visited the USA before the outbreak of war and ended up staying in the country for the rest of her life. In 1944 Clarke married the Scottish-born James Friskin who had also been a composition pupil of Stanford.

The Viola Sonata commences with a substantial movement marked Impetuoso. This opens with Dukes and Rahman providing a strong Celtic-style melody that feels like a martial rallying cry. Here one can easily hear Stanford’s influence. From 1:38 the mood changes to one of a mysterious yearning character. The atmosphere at 5:18 reverts to the boldness of the opening before at 7:02 becoming generally calm with a sense of exhaustion. I enjoyed the impressive playing in the short central movement Vivace. Here the unusual and colourful rhythms, that repeatedly change, provide a rather exotic feel. I cannot say that I experienced this movement as a, “… sprightly scherzo …” as described in the booklet notes. The lengthy closing movement, an Adagio, has that mysterious yearning quality of the Impetuoso. I noted the viola playing of Dukes briefly at 1:46 as uncomfortably jerky. Repeatedly the duo impressively builds up an aching intensity before finding more relaxing episodes of respite.

In these scores Clarke seems to have a signature style that I have previously described as having a “mysterious yearning” quality. This style applies largely to the Passacaglia; Lullaby; Lullaby on an Ancient Irish tune; Morpheus; I’II bid my heart be still; Untitled Piece and the Dumka Trio. These well-crafted works rather lack variety although they are still engaging leaving a considerable impression. The often mentioned comparisons to the sound-world of “English impressionism” is over-emphasised. I especially enjoyed this performance of the melancholy Passacaglia where they generate a considerable degree of tension. The players provide a high Celtic Baxian quality in the Lullaby; Lullaby on an Ancient Irish tune and the substantial Morpheus. The Dumka is reasonably interesting containing varied moods and some unusual rhythms.

The charming Chinese Puzzle, just as its title suggests, carries a traditional Chinese flavour, rather echoing a disc I have of authentic Chinese music to accompany Tai Chi. The Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale using the less usual combination of viola and clarinet has a spirited and edgy central Allegro flanked by slower outer movements and proves to be a fascinating score. The clarinet playing of Robert Plane is impressive with an especially pleasing timbre. In general the sound quality on this fairly closely recorded Naxos release is warm and clear with a decent balance. The informative and interesting booklet notes by Liane Curtis, President of the Rebecca Clarke Society serve the issue admirably.

There are several accounts of the Clarke Viola Sonata in the catalogues. I have been especially impressed with the 1993 recording from Paul Coletti and Leslie Howard on Hyperion Helios CDH55085 and also the 2001 version from Barbara Westphal and Jeffrey Swann on Bridge 9109. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but for information purposes other versions of the Viola Sonata include: Garfield Jackson and Martin Roscoe on ASV 932; Steven Dann and Bruce Vogt ‘Portrait of the Viola’ on CBC Records MVCD1072; Yizhak Schotten and Katherine Collier ‘Viola 1919’on Crystal Records CD637 and Helen Callus and Robert McDonald ‘A Portrait Of The Viola’ on ASV CDDCA1130.

This is a very splendidly performed and recorded disc from Naxos that will undoubtedly bring the music of Rebecca Clarke to a wider audience.



Calum MacDonald
International Record Review, February 2007

The rediscovery of Rebecca Clarke's music began in a modest way about 30 years ago. A fastidious and self-critical (not to say self-deprecating) composer, she did not leave a large oeuvre and confined herself almost entirely to chamber and vocal music. Virtually all her instrumental output has been recorded by now, the salient pieces several times over. Even so, a disc like this can come as a salutary reminder of how good she actually was. She produced mainly pieces for two or three players, especially for the viola, which was her own instrument, and most of her works are comparative miniatures. Yet the voice is always individual, and she presents an uncommon fusion of impeccable craftsmanship with strong and piercing emotion. Philip Dukes and Sophia Rahman, who have very recently produced an admirable collection of Arnold Bax's riola music, also on Naxos, have previously recorded Clarke's 1919 Viola Sonata for Gamut and are here the mainstays of a disc which has some claim to be considered the best of all Rebecca Clarke anthologies to date. The clamorous urgency with which Dukes, on the CD's opening track, articulates the opening cries of the Sonata immediately makes one aware that this is playing of absolute commitment and faithful identification with the soul of the composer.

It's right that pride of place should go to the Viola Sonata, one of Clarke's most important works and her breakthrough piece, tying for First Prize with Ernest Bloch's Suite for Viola at Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts. It's astonishing to think that there were several newspaper critics then who refused, in print, to believe such mesmerizing music could have been composed by a woman. The various influences of Bloch, Ravel (especially in the pantoum-like Scherzo) and Vaughan Williams had already been perfectly assimilated into a rich medium of personal expression. Over the years, and with the accelerating effect of many recordings (it must now be her most-­recorded piece), the Sonata has established itself as one of the greatest works in its genre. Dukes and Rahman surpass their previous version in possibly the most expansive interpretation on disc: their broad treatment of the first movement, taking full account of its Impetuoso marking but searching deeply in the more reflective passages, is particularly satisfying. But in truth this is a many-sided work, and other interpreters such as Paul Coletti, Garfield Jackson, Patricia McCarty and Helen Callus have all found something different in it.

Dukes and Rahman are equally eloquent in the dreamily Ravelian Morpheus, written shortly before the Sonata, and the fine late Passacaglia on an Old English Tune from 1941; and they give a beautifully sensitive reading of Clarke's drastically simple and deeply moving last instrumental composition, I’ll bid my heart be still, composed at the age of 58 (she would live for another 35 years). All of these pieces except the Passacaglia may be found in a fine recital by Callus and Robert McDonald, coupled with other British women composers, which I praised when it appeared a couple of years ago; and the Sonata and Morpheus, along with the 1909 Lullaby, are on an outstanding recital of British viola music by Coletti and Leslie Howard.

However, this new Naxos release, very warmly recorded, is at least the equal of these versions. Most of the other works (with Morpheusagain) are on an excellent Dutton release from Lorraine McAslan, Michael Ponder and Ian Jones (with Julian Farrell the clarinettist in the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale). Here there isn't so much to choose between that version and this Naxos one, but the new disc has other claims to uniqueness. It's interesting to hear the brightly glistening pentatonicism of Chinese Puzzle in a version for viola (rather than violin) and piano - though not marked as such, I think this must be the first recording of the piece in this form. There is one undoubted world premiere recording here, the fascinating 'Untitled Piece' for viola and piano from roughly the same period as Morpheus, with its evocative orientalisms and irregular rhythms. I believe I was the first person to describe this work, in an article on Clarke's chamber music in Tempo in 1986: it's gratifying to hear it at last (the kinship I detected to Debussy's La plus que lente is clearly audible), and so sensitively played that it's possible to recognize in it as authentic an expression of her personal genius as her more polished published pieces.

Dukes and Rahman are joined by no less an artist than Daniel Hope for the rarely heard Dumkafor violin, viola and piano from about 1941. Though Liane Curtis's booklet notes make the obvious connections to Dvořák (and possibly Martinů), the players bring out the fierce and joyous Irishry (a taste Clarke formed early under Stanford) of its second strain more clearly than their rivals McAslan, Ponder and Jones (on another Dutton CD), and they also give the music greater room to breathe, emphasizing the unexpected elegiac intensity into which its romantic ardour finally lapses.

Clarinettist Robert Plane deftly partners Dukes in the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale, premièred at the 1941 ISCM and long afterwards forgotten, though the piece's spiky counterpoint (especially the remarkable Scherzoin contrary motion) and the melancholically austere English folk-song style of the Pastoraleput it among her most advanced works stylistically. If you are already a fan of Rebecca Clarke's music you will likely have some or all of the discs I've listed for comparison. However, at its super-budget price (and for its excellent performances, and the beautiful 'Untitled Piece') this is a very welcome addition to her discography.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

Rebecca Clarke was born in the south of England in 1886 and followed a career as a viola player, filling in her spare time as a composer, mainly of music linked to her instrument. It was at a time when women were still struggling to gain acceptance in this field, and her music never achieved the popularity it richly deserved. What little has become known mainly dates from her early years, and avoided any contact with the progressive school of music at the time. Her thematic material was so attractive and instantly memorable, the writing elegant and usually in the mode of conversation between instruments. At times it is intensely passionate, as in the Dumka, and always highly rewarding to the performers. I fell in love with her music years ago, and these superb performances only add to my fervent recommendation of her output. Indeed the disc contains some of the most beautiful viola playing I ever hope to hear. Winner of the coveted European Rising Stars Award in 1995, which led to high prestige recitals throughout Europe, Philip Dukes is technically brilliant, though it is his innate musicianship that is so remarkable. He is partnered with the utmost sensitivity by Sophia Rahman, with Daniel Hope, the UK's exciting young violin prospect joining in the Dumka. The clarinettist, Robert Plane, has won much critical acclaim for his Naxos recording of the Finzi concerto, and here adds his creamy tone to the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale. Exceptional sound quality.






Famous Composers Quick Link:
Bach | Beethoven | Chopin | Dowland | Handel | Haydn | Mozart | Glazunov | Schumann | R Strauss | Vivaldi
8:56:31 AM, 2 August 2014
All Naxos Historical, Naxos Classical Archives, Naxos Jazz, Folk and Rock Legends and Naxos Nostalgia titles are not available in the United States and some titles may not be available in Australia and Singapore because these countries have copyright laws that provide or may provide for terms of protection for sound recordings that differ from the rest of the world.
Copyright © 2014 Naxos Digital Services Ltd. All rights reserved.     Terms of Use     Privacy Policy
-208-
Classical Music Home
NOTICE: This site was unavailable for several hours on Saturday, June 25th 2011 due to some unexpected but essential maintenance work. We apologize for any inconvenience.