Doris Lederer’s last disc of British
music on this site about a year ago.
There she essayed a pleasing mix of
repertoire and included the Bax Fantasy
Sonata, some Bridge morceaux, Vaughan
Williams’ Romance and some Grainger
and Britten. This is clearly music that
appeals to her because now she has narrowed
her recording focus still further with
one of Bax’s great chamber works, the
Viola Sonata and two substantial works
by York Bowen. Lionel Tertis was never
asked to record the Bowen Sonatas and
so we don’t know, unlike the case of
the Bax Sonata, how he would have played
them; but those who know Tertis’s recordings
can make a reasonable stab. Richness
and opulence of tone, digital flexibility,
relatively fast tempi and an abundance
of luscious and ceaseless portamenti
would be the way.
To this extent when
listening to Doris Lederer’s new recording
and the recent Dutton all-Bowen release
by Boyd and Forsberg – where the C minor
and the Phantasy are common to both
– we find a fruitful divergence of approaches.
Boyd’s cellistic tone more approximates
Tertis’s whilst Lederer’s leaner, more
focused sound reminds one rather more
of the Primrose alto tradition. In the
Allegro moderato first movement we find
that Boyd tends to lean on phrases,
squeezing the juice out of them – most
attractively – whilst Lederer is more
no-nonsense. Brisker, certainly, but
it’s not simply a question of tempo.
She doesn’t halt at comma points or
sculpt with over emphasis. In the molto
espressivo second subject Lederer
and Jane Coop manage to catch the romantic
depth as well as the more genial lightening
of tone. Their animation is also firmly
directed in a work that can rapidly
inflate itself through over-fond attention.
Boyd and Forsberg are slower, their
rubato is more elastic, and there are
moments when I found them, for all their
obvious affection, just a touch episodic.
Forsberg is the more assertive pianist,
assisted by a warmer and more obviously
sympathetic acoustic, and they can also
find the humour latent here as well
as a heart-stopping couple of pianissimos.
The slow movement always
sounds to me like the distant cousin
of a spiritual. Once more the Lederer-Coop
team is the fleeter of the two and they
are also quite dramatic, vesting the
movement with quicksilver incident.
Tonally she doesn’t have the depth of
the lower two strings that Boyd does,
but her less explicitly romanticised
approach demonstrates that this work
can take different approaches and work
successfully. She and Coop certainly
bind the occasionally discursive and
unbalanced writing (the two instruments
are not always ideally balanced by Bowen)
with convincing insight. In the finale
Boyd and Forsberg are up to tempo, even
fractionally faster than the North American
pairing. This is the movement where
Dutton’s superior engineering really
pays off because things are just that
much more immediate in their recording,
the molto vibrato episode speaking
that much more emotively, the terpsichorean
drive just that much more involving
in their hands. Both partnerships relish
the humorous pointing though Boyd is
saucier than Lederer’s slightly more
aloof profile. Both recordings however
respond individually and vibrantly to
the writing and make a persuasive case
for the C minor Sonata.
The 1918 Phantasy is
once again common discographic ground.
For all Boyd’s depth and subtlety of
tone, Lederer may well have the edge
here. Her tone is again alto-ish where
his is more cellistic but she finds
a greater and more incisive sense of
direction in a work that can easily
buckle through introspective fragmentation.
I particularly relished her mezza voce
in the central panel as well as the
walking pace poco andante of the opening
with its admixture of keening folk edge.
It’s not a surprise that she and Coop
are a full minute quicker than Boyd
and Forsberg and it’s decidedly to the
work’s advantage for all the attractive
qualities cultivated by the latter pairing.
The Bax Sonata still
doesn’t have the decent representation
in the catalogue that it deserves. Numerous
examples are long out of print: will
someone resurrect the Downes/Cassini,
Milton Thomas/Stevenson and Vardi/Bogin
recordings. Lederer phrases here with
commendable directness. In the first
movement she doesn’t inflect with constant
colour, as Primrose does, nor does she
lavish a huge wash of vibrato on the
folk episodes, as Tertis did, at a sprightly
tempo, with the composer at the keyboard.
As a result she and Coop are not, equally,
as vertical or abrasive in their response
as Primrose and Harriet Cohen were.
Clearly part of this is structural –
as Lederer and Coop search for the most
intensive moments of declamation to
make their points. And there is considerable
virtue in this leaner, less dramatic
approach, a more lateral, integrationist
one. In the finale, though they play
adroitly, I felt just a want of fantasy
tinged with tragedy such as one gets
from the most intuitive performances
– though I wouldn’t overstate the case.
In terms of structure this is an acutely
With good documentary
notes and production values this is
a fine contribution to the literature
– exploratory and understanding. Let’s
hope these two musicians continue to
cast their net over under-explored areas
of repertoire with such perception.