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An English Fantasy for Viola and Harp
Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Fantasy Sonata for viola and harp (1927) [22.30]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Three Pieces for viola and piano [8.57]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Romance for viola and piano [5.58]; Six Studies in English Folk Song (1926) [8.27; Fantasia on Greensleeves (1928) [4.11]; A Winter's Willow (1903) [2.34];
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Six English Folk Tunes (1941-42) [12.00]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) The Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol [3.43]
Doris Lederer (viola)
Jude Mollenhauer (harp)
rec. 24-26 Nov 2000, LSU Recital Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2570 [69.46]

With the exception of the Bax these are all transcriptions usually from an original for viola and piano.

The most substantial piece here though one infused with elusive moods is the Bax. This dates from about the same time as the Third Symphony. Its stance is Gallic-flavoured with Ravel's delicacy and Bax's romantic instincts. There are darker more hyperborean shades in the viola part than I hear here although the allegro is good (tr.4) drawing up memories of the Viola Sonata of 1919 and the Ballad. The harp however is spot-on with the minimum of finger impact noises. This is still the idyllic Bax on the cusp of the transition into the Bardic realms of the Second Northern Ballad and Winter Legends.

The Bridge pieces are the work of an adept of the salon morceau - not that Bridge’s mastery was restricted to that commercial field. He wrote many such pieces often with French sentiments. These are closer in character to the similar pieces by Fauré. Vaughan Williams' lovely Romance is a highly lyrical piece without obvious folksong references; well worth getting to know and very well done here. The folksy voice is prominent in the Six Studies which carry memories of his most attractive opera Sir John in Love; memories reinforced by the Greensleeves Fantasia. Ms Lederer's finely delicate tone suits most of the RVW pieces very well; indeed in the studies the two artists made me listen afresh to these often slighted pieces. Only the rum-ti-tum ‘smock dance’ of the final study strikes a false note and then only fleetingly.

After all that sentiment we move to Britten's objective six pieces which have nothing in them to cloy. They fly delicately along without troubling the listener with heart-stirrings. After this we come to one of Britten's favoured composers, Percy Grainger. The carol shows that Grainger stood at the opposite pole from Britten. He had no compunction about emotionality and the carol positively drips with sentimentality.

If you like the sound of the viola and the harp this is the disc for you. There are better performances of the Bax sonata but the other pieces work very well indeed. If the sound of these two delicate 'voices' is for you then you need not hesitate.

Rob Barnett



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