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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

AVAILABILITY
£10.95 from your local retailer or directly from
Dunelm Records, 2 Park Close, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 7RQ
Telephone & Fax: 01457 855313
Web site: www.dunelm-records.co.uk

Music for cello and piano II
Richard DRAKEFORD (b.1936) Cello Suitefor Rohan de Saram (1957-8)
John R. WILLIAMSON (b.1929) Cello Sonata No. 2 (2001) *
Vagn HOLMBOE (1909-1996) Solo Cello Sonata (1969)
Diane Porteous (cello)
Kathryn Page (piano) *
Rec. Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester in July 2003 and August 2004 DDD
DUNELM RECORDS DRD0229 [51:35]



 

This disc has something of a “home-made” feel to it. In the world of food that would obviously be regarded as a compliment. Here you might imagine it to be intended as a criticism but not so. This may not be a “mass production” but certainly there is plenty of professionalism evident in all aspects of this enterprise. The worst thing I can find to say about it is that Holmboe’s name is mis-spelt on the front cover (only) but I am sure you have already spotted that for yourself on the image above. That’s a pity since the documentation is otherwise excellent and is even printed on higher quality paper than seems to be the norm. The notes for the first two works are written by their composers and Diane Porteous contributes for the Holmboe. The disc itself comes with a warning that it is a “CD-R” and may not play on some older CD players.

My usual formula for a review (although I do try to vary it) is music, performance, sound, documentation. Having started at the end, I shall continue to work backwards and say now that the recorded sound is excellent. For me, recording a solo cello (as in the Drakeford and Holmboe pieces) is very much a question of getting the right perspective and that certainly seems to have been achieved here. When the piano is included (in the Williamson), the two instruments are beautifully balanced. The acoustic seems ideal for the music and the overall effect is most natural throughout.

Diane Porteous is an up-and-coming artist who studied with Raphael Wallfisch and Paul Watkins. I am sure we shall hear more of her in the future. It seems sensible for her to be recording unusual repertoire at this stage and she convinces in all three works. Kathryn Page seems to have a particular interest in contemporary music and in the Williamson sonata she is an ideal partner (I almost wrote accompanist but that would probably have been wrong).

And so to the music. I was attracted to the disc on the strength of Holmboe’s name, feeling I ought to be exploring beyond the symphonies which are amongst the finest of the late 20th century. I had assumed that Williamson would be Malcolm, late Master of the Queens’ Music and have not come across John R., or Richard Drakeford, before.

Drakeford’s Cello Suite is a student work written for Rohan de Saram whilst the composer was at Oxford University. In five movements, it lasts just under ten minutes and is partly modelled on a Bach suite but the most obvious audible influence seems to be Shostakovich. The prelude is in two sections, opening with deeply-felt slow rhapsodic material, and after a short section marked Vivace it leads without a break to a demanding fugue. The third movement is a lyrical Sarabande and the fourth a generally lively Badinerie. The finale is marked Coda and recapitulates the opening. For a student work, this is assured writing and it is certainly worth an airing.

Williamson’s Second Cello Sonata is in four movements and the composer tells us that the overall construction is “basically classical”. He also indicates that he was dissatisfied with his first cello sonata and that it has been “set aside as unworthy of performance”. The outer movements are moderately fast, the second is a set of variations based on a slow intense theme, whilst the third movement is a scherzo. As implied above, the piano seems to be an equal partner for much of the work. This is original and melodious music that sounds “post-Vaughan Williams” and is none the worse for that. On occasions I was also reminded of George Lloyd but there are often deeper undertones. I think this is a very fine work and would be interested in hearing more of the composer’s music. He seems to have been quite prolific since settling into serious composition in his fifties and in particular, he has written a cello concerto. This does not seem have been recorded yet, although there are discs of his piano music and Housman song settings available on the Dunelm label.

Holmboe’s Sonata for solo cello is a dark, powerful work in three movements: prelude, fugue and two-part finale with a slow introduction. There is the same sense of organic growth here which characterizes his symphonies. Throughout the work tension is created between the tonalities of C and D. His fellow countryman Nielsen was one of the first composers to use such a device and, although his idiom is different, it would be hard to believe that Holmboe was not influenced by his great Danish predecessor. The first movement is particularly impressive and Diane Porteous plays it for all it is worth. The second movement is unsettled and often challenges the lower range of the instrument. In the finale, the extended introduction is rapt and the Allegro giocoso which follows is, despite the marking, often only marginally less profound than what has gone before.

So, it’s bravo to small enterprise! Why listen to yet another version of a well-known work by a well-known artist on a major label when you can explore material as interesting and well-played as this? Holmboe’s sonata is undoubtedly the greatest work here but all this music is worth getting to know and Williamson’s sonata is a fine example of highly accessible contemporary music.

Patrick C Waller

See also Ian Milnes and David Hackbridge Johnson



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