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Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata (1919) [27:01]
Passacaglia (on an old English tune) (1941) [5:17]
Lullaby (1909) [4:37]
Lullaby on an Ancient Irish Tune (1913) [2:36]
Morpheus (1918) [7:18]
Chinese Puzzle (1921) [1:28]
I’ll bid my heart be still (c.1944) [3:32]
Untitled Piece for viola and piano (c.1918) [5:21]
Dumka (c.1941) [10:13] *
Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale (1941) [13:26] +
Philip Dukes (viola)
Sophia Rahman (piano) except the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale
Daniel Hope (violin) *
Robert Plane (clarinet) +
rec. Concert Hall of Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, June 2004
NAXOS 8.557934 [78:54]

 


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.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Michael Cookson

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