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An English Fantasy for Viola and Harp
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

Fantasy Sonata (1927)
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Three Pieces;
Berceuse (1901)
Serenade (1903)
Cradle Song (1902)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Romance for Viola and piano [transc harp]
Six Studies in English Folk Song (1926)
Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

English folk Tunes (1943)
The Salley Gardens
Little Sir William
O Can Ye Sew Cushions?
The Trees They Grow So High
The Ash Grove
Oliver Cromwell
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)

The Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol (1911)
Doris Lederer (viola)
Jude Mollenhauer (harp)
Recorded LSU Recital Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
CENTAUR CRC 2570 [69.21]

Distributed by D I Music (UK) T: +44 (0)161 491 6655 F: +44 (0)161 491 6688

Centaur’s programme note writer Steve Lubin is right to draw attention to the role of Lionel Tertis in commissioning new works for viola from British composers. Of course Tertis’s influence was massive, long lasting and rather magnificent, a few repertoire blips aside, and the Tertis-Richardson viola was itself a living embodiment of his aesthetic, tonal and expressive arch-Romanticism in its most practical form. But Tertis was not alone and this disc surely also celebrates, at least in part but certainly not by name – he’s not mentioned – a very different violist. When I think of Bax and the viola I as often think of Raymond Jeremy as I do of Tertis. The survival of the composer’s own recording of the Viola Sonata with Tertis (on Pearl) has rather overshadowed the Welsh-born friend of Edward Thomas. It was Jeremy who first performed Bax’s Fantasy Sonata, and he played in the premieres of the Sextet In Memoriam, the first Quartet, the Harp Quintet and the one movement Quintet – spanning the years 1917 – 1935. As a member of the Philharmonic Quartet he was well equipped to take on Bax’s chamber works in the context or continuum of the Cobbett-inspired outpouring of chamber music. Thus he and Maria Korchinska gave the premiere of the Fantasy Sonata in 1927 and recorded the first movement very shortly afterwards for Compton Mackenzie’s National Gramophonic Society. There have been numerous recordings since: Watson Forbes/Korchinska, in her second recording, this time complete, Milton Thomas/Susann McDonald (a splendid harpist who also recorded with, inter alia, Louis Kaufman), Vardi and Ross, Ponder and Barford, Golani and Loman, Toutain and Perrin, Thompson and Hobson and doubtless others. There is however a real authority to Jeremy’s playing that is compelling and the authority extends to matters of pacing and tempo relation. Doris Lederer and Jude Mollenhauer are deeply poetic and sensitive interpreters; Lederer has depth of tone in the lower two strings, well equalized and an estimable rapport with harpist Mollenhauer. They bring to the Bax a considered and frequently memorable if languid romanticism. And yet turn to Raymond Jeremy in that all important opening movement and we find a different kind of conception. It’s not simply the sound Jeremy makes – old fashioned, late nineteenth century, sparing of vibrato, quite different form Tertis and stretched a bit by Bax’s technical demands – so much as his sense of dramatic movement and flux. By comparison pretty much everyone else sounds becalmed. He is intensely lyrical but also intensely dramatic. He is dynamic, full of light and shade and even where he is fallible (some shifts especially) he even then, almost by default, conveys colouristic potential as well. The elliptical middle section of the first movement for the harp emerges with Korchinska full of glint and depth, Jeremy’s dynamics acutely mirroring the emotive flux of the movement. Of course the special authority of a first performer and recording is a tempting one; the work can withstand different kinds of interpretation. Yet for me the ones that work best are the ones that move.

My problem with the Lederer-Mollenhauer interpretation is one of tempo uniformity. There are three Allegros here – molto, moderato and a plain concluding Allegro. I find insufficient contrast, for all their skill and affection. The first movement doesn’t convince me and in the finale I began to chafe in the way I often do with Bax. I admired the simplicity and technical assurance of the performers but didn’t feel they had got to the core of the work or managed to convey its inherent dynamism.

The rest of the programme has many a pleasure though without much intellectual muscle. The arrangements of the Bridge are all the better for Lederer not bathing her viola in a vapour of vibrato. She is affectionately restrained in the Berceuse and most attractive in the repetitious Serenade. Of the Vaughan Williams selection the most impressively performed is the Andante sostenuto – which is eloquence itself. Nothing will quite convince me that Britten’s setting of Oliver Cromwell in this arrangement for viola and harp will ever work – still it’s nice to hear it once. But once is enough. They end with Grainger’s The Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol – shades of Watson Forbes again in this.

The Bax Fantasy Sonata is clearly the ballast here, the others arrangements and relatively lightweight at that. It makes for an attractive programme, excellently produced with commensurately good sound quality from the Centaur team.

Jonathan Woolf


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