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Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, July 2011

This is an exceptionally fine recording.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, May 2011

Two major 20th-century works for viola and a sequence of charming miniatures

Central to this wide-ranging collection is the magnificent Viola Sonata of Rebecca Clarke. Her career was extraordinary: she was the first female student of the notoriously misogynistic Stanford, and in 1919 she entered her Viola Sonata into a competition under a pseudonym. It was tossup for first prize between her and Bloch for his Viola Suite, Bloch being preferred to an unknown composer.

The powerful and striking first movement is marked Impetuoso, which is how it is played here, leading to a dazzlingly brilliant scherzo. The first half of the finale is an Adagio taking the place of a slow movement, before a passionate Allegro rounds off the work. This is the second Naxos recording of the Sonata: the first, equally fine, has Philip Dukes as viola player and is coupled with a varied collection of mainly brief pieces by Clarke.

The other major work here, a most valuable rarity, is a Suite by Theodore Holland. He was professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music and wrote copiously, although few of his works were performed or published. This Suite of 1938 might equally have been called a sonata, with its powerful first movement bringing out the richness of the viola before the ripely romantic slow movement and the compound-time tarantella-like finale.

Some items here have been specially arranged, such as Walton’s Two Pieces, with their melodies drawn from troubadour themes, and Bliss’s Intermezzo. Other pieces were inspired by Lionel Tertis who, more than anyone else, transformed the status of the viola. The Four Pieces by Frank Bridge, himself a viola player, are lightweight but Bax’s Legend, a Coolidge commission from America, is much more ambitious, starting with a darkly solemn ostinato and covering many moods, while Vaughan Williams’s charming, posthumously published Romance is a fine chip off the master’s workbench. With Michael Hampton the sensitive accompanist, Matthew Jones gives consistently fine performances, beautifully recorded.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, April 2011

Two outstanding young Britons, violist Matthew Jones and pianist Michael Hampton, present a recital of music by native composers that positively exudes enchantment. With the beautifully rich tone that he cultivates, allied with Hampton’s more than capable partnership, Jones weaves a spell that will stay with the listener for some time.

It is small wonder that English composers have shown such a partiality for the viola, as its range and the warmth of its lower register correspond to that of the human voice, particularly as we find it in the folk songs of the English people. We find this preoccupation, along with other influences, in the Sonata for Viola and Piano (1919) of Rebecca Clarke. The wide range of this work, which begins in rhapsodic fashion with the opening movement, marked Impetuoso, and concludes vigorously in a splendid Allegro with a contrasted Adagio, makes us wonder why Clarke, who was one of the best regarded violists of her day, wrote only one other major work in her long life (1886–1979).

Up next are two pieces by William Walton, Canzonetta and Scherzetto. Dedicated to Sir Laurence and Lady Olivier (Vivien Leigh), they are much in keeping with the troubadour lilt and charm of the suite Walton composed for Olivier’s 1944 film Henry V. Of special interest is the prevalence of grace notes, pizzicati and string harmonics in the viola part, while the piano imitates the plucking of a guitar or mandolin.

Arnold Bax’s Legend is a moving work that seems more substantial than its ten-minute duration, as it moves from dreamlike and edgy to darkly sinister and back again. The all-too brief Intermezzo by Arthur Bliss, in the tempo of a Mazurka, reveals its composer’s delight in color and rhythmic vitality. Ralph Vaughn Williams’ moody Romance for Viola and Piano is very much in the composer’s richest vein of string writing, making it all the more mystery that he never published it in his lifetime.

Finally, the Suite in D for Viola and Piano by Theodore Holland concludes the program in splendid fashion as it explores the full range of possibilities of the instrument. Holland’s writing ranges from the tenderness of the viola’s lower register in the central movement, a Romance tinged with sadness, to the exultant soaring of the concluding Allegro vivace. This is a true duo-sonata, requiring the very close participation of both partners to make it a success.

John France
MusicWeb International, March 2011

It is almost unbelievable, but true, that at the present time there are nine versions of Rebecca Clarke’s fine Viola Sonata in the CD catalogues. Three things spring to mind about this fact. Firstly, this Sonata is a work that fully deserves as much exposure as possible. Secondly, it is an excellent expression of a situation in which both British music in general and women’s music in particular, have seen a huge increase in availability over the past two or three decades. Having said that there is much to be done on both accounts. And finally, there is the down-side—there are comparatively few Sonatas for viola in the repertoire: any worthy ones are likely to be played much more often by performers than their violin or cello equivalents. This paucity of material also reflects the need of violists to arrange, or have arranged other music for their instrument.

This present CD can be seen as a compilation in two parts. Firstly there are the two sizable works: the Clarke and the newly discovered Suite by Theodore Holland. Secondly there is a selection of small-scale, but important works by five major names in British music. Three of these are arrangements.

I do not want to give a detailed analysis of Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and piano. However four comments are worth noting. Firstly this piece is undoubtedly a work of genius; it does not need repeated hearing to realise that this is one of the great works of the genre. Secondly, the Sonata was composed in 1919 for the Coolidge Competition. She wrote it under the pseudonym ‘Anthony Trent’. Interestingly, the winner of the first prize was Bloch’s Suite for viola. Thirdly, Rebecca Clarke was not a prolific composer: the only other work of similar size and scope to this Sonata was her 1921 Piano Trio. Fourthly, the sound-world of the Sonata is complex. It would be easy to write it off as a concatenation of a variety of post-romantic styles. For example the listener will easily detect the influences of Debussy, English folksong, Ravel and the impressionism associated with the Ravel-inspired music of Vaughan Williams. However the main influence has to be Brahms. Yet the overall impression of this twenty-minute long, three movement sonata cannot be described as a hanging together of other composers’ styles. The total effect is quite definitely Rebecca Clarke’s own.

I was immediately impressed by the two short pieces by William Walton. They are new to me—at least in this particular arrangement by Matthew Jones. The Canzonetta was based on a thirteenth-century Troubadour’s song which the composer had researched for his film score to Henry V. It is not an exact transcription of the song; however the piano does echo the sound of a strumming stringed instrument. The melody is profound and moving. The following Scherzando is also inspired by the troubadour tradition, but is a little spicier than music of that earlier era would have allowed.

Arnold Bax’s Legend for viola and piano is dark-hued and introspective. It explores the composer’s fascination with the Celtic twilight. It was composed in 1929 for Lionel Tertis whom Bax had met at the Royal Academy of Music. If there is any criticism of the piece it is that for a work lasting some ten minutes, there are many mood changes. These range from ‘the downright sinister to the dreamlike’ all in the space of a handful of bars. Yet it is a well written piece that exploits the ‘voice’ and technique of the viola. There is no suggestion as to what the ‘legend’ may actually be.

The four Frank Bridge pieces, Berceuse, Sérénade and Elégie, are well known in their original guise for either violin or cello and piano. The final Cradle Song was originally a mezzo-soprano song to words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. All four numbers work well for the viola and are welcome additions to the repertoire. They were transcribed by Veronica Leigh Jacobs, who was a friend and confidante of Rebecca Clarke.

I had not heard the short Intermezzo by Arthur Bliss before. This miniature was transcribed by Watson Forbes from the middle movement of the composer’s Piano Quartet which dates from 1915. Bliss played the viola and also contributed an important Sonata for that instrument. He once described the viola as ‘the most romantic of the instruments: a veritable Byron in the orchestra’. He added that the viola’s ‘rather restless and tragic personality makes it an ideal vehicle for romantic and oratorical expression.’ The transcription may have been made before the original work was first performed: however it was not published until 1950. It is a light piece that plumbs no great depths, but is attractive, ‘nimble footed’ and melodic. Watson Douglas Buchanan Forbes (1909–1997) although born in Gloucestershire was a Scottish violist and classical music arranger. From 1964 to 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

I have loved the Romance for viola and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams since first hearing this piece some twenty years ago. The work was discovered amongst the composer’s papers after his death. It was probably composed around the outbreak of the Great War and may have been written for Lionel Tertis. His friendship with Tertis resulted in Flos Campi and the Suite for Viola and Orchestra. Paul Spicer has well described this work as being ‘small in scale but large in dramatic effect’. A fine balance is struck between the pastoral opening and the involved central climax.

For me, the great discovery of this CD is the Suite for Viola and piano by Theodore Holland. I will need to hear this work a number of times and, perhaps, a perusal of the score may help to gain a better understanding of this piece. However on first hearing, this is a fine work that is both attractive and beautiful in its execution. The Suite is in three well-balanced movements that are approachable and satisfying. The mood of the entire suite is typically optimistic however there are some moments of reflection, especially in the ‘romance’. This is not a derivative work: it is not easy to tie down the influences. Certainly there is little in the way of ‘modernism’ but neither are there any ‘farmers in smocks’.

The opening movement has some of the most involved music that maybe owes something to Bliss’s Viola Sonata. However the tension of the opening bars soon gives way to a more lyrical conversation between soloists.

The Romance is truly lovely—‘haunting’ but never despairing. This is passionate, soul-searching music that moves the listener. It is almost impossible to hear this movement without being baffled as to why this work has been ignored for so long.

The final ‘allegro vivace’ has a trippy, ‘jazzy’ feel to it, without it being jazz. It is a movement of two parts—the lively outgoing outer sections contrasting with a mysterious, introverted middle section. This Suite in D is certainly one of my major discoveries of 2011 (so far). I hope that Holland’s music can be explored in greater detail in coming years.

This is an excellent CD. The programme is well-balanced, with a good selection of original works and arrangements. The two major pieces are stunningly and convincingly played by Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton: the shorter works are also given enthusiastic and sympathetic performances.

This is essential listening for all chamber music enthusiasts, be they committed to the cause of British music or not. The repertoire of original music for viola and piano is not huge; however this CD disc has presented a few new discoveries to the interested listener. It deserves every success.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2011

For years the butt of so many musical jokes, the viola is becoming increasingly fashionable at a time when we have many outstanding soloists. Much was not originally intended for the instrument, Walton’s Two Pieces; Four Pieces by Bridge, and Bliss’s Intermezzo all appearing in transcriptions. It opens with the sonata by Rebecca Clarke, an undisputed masterpiece, its three well-contrasted movements exploring the viola’s many differing sonorities. The equally interesting piano part places the two instruments on an equal footing, the finale a massive outpouring of joy. Bax’s Legend has also become part of the standard recital repertoire, the score moving through many different moods in a short space of time. First performed by the legendary Lionel Tertis, the short Romance discovered after the death of Vaughan Williams was most likely also intended for him. The last of the original works comes from the little known Theodore Holland. A teacher of harmony and composition at London’s Royal Academy of Music in the first half of the 20th century, he was a prolific composer who never promoted his music. Still in the style of the previous generation, the outer movements of his Suite in D are very robust as they frame a lyrical central Romance. It is here receiving a world premiere recording. Of the remainder I much welcome Veronica Leigh Jacobs’ adaptation of pieces by Bridge, their lightweight salon quality so very attractive. The UK born soloist, Matthew Jones, divides his time between chamber music and concerto appearances. His playing, on a very deep sounding viola, is excellent in tonal quality, intonation and innate musicianship. His pianist partner, Michael Hampton, matches his strength of musical personality, the duo captured in well-balanced sound.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group