Now that Rebecca
Clarke’s Viola Sonata has become popular it’s available in performances
at all price brackets. I have to say at the outset that this
Dukes-Rahman performance features the most extended and metrically
daring Impetuoso first movement I’ve ever heard. One
doesn’t want to judge a performance by the stopwatch but most
duos will clock in at about 7:50. This one takes nearly eleven
minutes. The conviction with which they present themes and their
concentration is what ensures that the performance doesn’t come
off the rails. But it’s this movement that will determine one’s
appreciation of the performance. The Jackson-Roscoe team on
ASV CD DCA 932 are altogether more central in their conception,
similarly the Westphal-Swann team on Bridge 9109, to take just
two of their competitors.
My own view is that
the arresting immediacy that others bring is deliberately shunned
by the Dukes-Rahman duo. The reflective becomes self-immersion
- and the modalities are not nearly as pronounced as they can
be and arguably should be. One thing’s for sure; when Clarke
showed Lionel Tertis her sonata this is not how that Bratsch-tiger
would have played it. The lyric episodes however do have a nervous
tension that some will think convincing in a work written in
1919. The second and third movements are more conventional –
maybe they sought to expand the contours of the first movement
to balance the long finale?
The other works
are a mix of familiar and less well known. The Passacaglia
(on an old English tune) is quite direct, though not lacking
in atmosphere or moving generosity. The Ponder-Jones pairing
on Dutton CDLX7105 took more time, with arguably more effective
results. The wan folkloric inflections of the early 1909 Lullaby
are deftly observed whilst the stiffer Lullaby on an Ancient
Irish Tune carries a more eerie charge altogether – quite
a complex piece for so deceptively simple a title. Dukes and
Rahman stretch out longer than Ponder and Jones in Morpheus
– the lyric impressionisms of which work very well here.
The little pentatonic
games of Chinese Puzzle last barely a minute and a half
but interest never palls. I’ll bid my heart be still
is a beautiful arrangement of a song that must have struck nostalgic
associations in Clarke’s heart. The Untitled Piece for viola
and piano is provisionally dated to 1918 and is rather beautiful.
For the c.1941 Dumka Daniel Hope joins in. The work is
evocative, reflective and lyrical but also encompasses a jig.
It’s nothing like Dvořák of course and a Dumka perhaps
only in respect of its rapid emotive changeability. The Prelude,
Allegro and Pastorale with Robert Plane is heard to better
effect on the rival Dutton disc where it’s played with greater
incision and speed, and which brings out the pastoral elements
with more logic.
This makes for an
attractive Clarke disc, very well played and recorded and at Naxos’s
tempting price range. The notes are excellent. But for the Viola
Sonata I would opt for the Jackson-Roscoe ASV performance which
is coupled with the Piano Trio and Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet.
see also Review
by Michael Cookson
on Naxos page