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Benjamin DALE (1885-1943)
Music for Viola

Suite for Viola and Piano, Op.2 (1906-07) [33:17]
Introduction and Andante for Six Violas (Viola Sextet), Op.5 (1911) [10:06]*
English Dance (1916) (arranged for viola and piano by York Bowen) [4:08]
Phantasy for Viola and Piano, Op.4 (1910) [19:53]
Roger Chase (viola); Michiko Otaki (piano); *Hannah Shaw, Fiona Opie, Thomas Beer, Rumen Cvetkov, Karel Coninx (violas)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 3-4 January 2007 and Saint Silas Church, Chalk Farm, London, 28 May 2007 (Op. 5). DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Dale has few works to his credit, but practically all of them have a real permanent value, and, in the path of his choice, he has certainly achieved remarkable eminence.” Edwin Evans (‘Modern British Composers. III. Benjamin Dale’, Musical Times, Vol. 60, No. 915 (May 1, 1919), pg. 201-205).

The Dutton Epoch label continues to explore British late-Romantic repertoire with a new disc of Music for Viola by neglected English composer Benjamin Dale. Two of the scores: the Viola Sextet and the English Dance are claimed as world première recordings.

London-born Benjamin Dale was a pianist as well as a composer who from 1900 studied at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) under Frederick Corder. In August 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Dale was holidaying in Germany and together with fellow composers Frederick Keel and Edgar Bainton was interned at the Ruhleben civilian detention camp near Berlin for the duration of the war. Dale taught harmony and later composition at the RAM from 1909 being appointed to Academy Warden there in 1936. Between 1919 and 1920 Dale became an examiner for the Associated Board travelling to Australia and New Zealand. He served on the BBC Music Advisory Panel from 1936 until his death in 1943.

Dale composed a relatively small number of scores but what I have heard of his output is of high quality. A student work from 1902 the Piano Sonata was taken up by pianists York Bowen and Myra Hess (both ex-RAM students) although its acclaim was rather short-lived. Another student work his Concertstück for Organ and Orchestra from 1904 was popular for a while. His Suite for Viola and Orchestra won the support of many including Havergal Brian. The contemplative and predominantly elegiac Violin Sonata (1922) is a fine score and his Ballade for violin and piano (1927) was moderately successful for a time. Dale’s tone poem The Flowing Tide (1943) was premiered on 6 August 1943 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult. The Flowing Tide (thought to be its premiere) was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 25 April 2002 in a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Vernon Handley but has not been commercially recorded.

The disc opens with the substantial three movement Suite for Viola and Piano. A first performance, of the first two movements only, was given at the Aeolian Hall, London in 1906. The players were the star team of renowned violist Lionel Tertis and the pianist/composer York Bowen; both ex-RAM students who later were to become professors there. The first performance of the complete work was given the next year at Broadwood’s Rooms in London. The opening Maestoso - Allegretto espressivo contains music of a rather unsettling quality that explores the broad range of the viola with the piano part an equal partner. The central Romance conveys a sense of gazing up at grey and foreboding clouds. Dale lightens the mood a touch in the central section but then the intensity increases and the serious character of the opening section returns. The Romance is often played as a stand-alone. The technically demanding Allegro, finale contains rich and vigorous writing that makes a significant dramatic impact. A calmer and lyrical central core at 6:48-9:05 gives the duo of Chase and Otaki some welcome respite. The conclusion to the score is dramatic and highly entertaining leaving this listener wondering why this excellent piece is not heard more often.

The sumptuous Introduction and Andante for Six Violas, Op.5 is cast in a single continuous movement. More commonly known as the Viola Sextet this composed in 1911. Its unusual scoring for six violas came about as it was commissioned by Lionel Tertis to be played by him and his viola pupils; one of which was Eric Coates, an RAM student who later achieved great fame as a composer of light music. According to Frederick Corder the original title of Dale’s score was A short piece (Introduction & Andante) for six Violas (letter from Corder, Musical Times, October 1917). The inclusion of Introduction and Andante in the title is a rather curious one as the marking of Andante is never used: the second section is marked Lento espressione. As for possible influences Dale would surely have known the earlier Phantasy (Fantasie) Quartet for four violas, Op. 41 composed by his friend York Bowen in 1907. In the Viola Sextet the confident partnership of Chase and Otaki convey a lavish outpouring of rich, dark colours. This is a dramatic and powerfully intense score of significant grandeur, a hidden gem of the English chamber repertoire that deserves to be more widely known.

The English Dance from 1916 was one of the scores that Dale composed whilst interned at the Ruhleben camp. Dale originally titled the work Country Dance for use as a violin interlude for a production of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s play The Knight of the Burning Pestle at Ruhleben. The score to the English Dance has appeared as a score arranged for solo piano, violin and piano and for small orchestra; this arrangement of the English Dance was prepared for viola and piano by York Bowen. Chase and Otaki adroitly convey a convincingly boisterous music-hall atmosphere to this entertaining if slight English Dance.

The concluding work is the Phantasy for Viola and Piano, Op.4 that Dale composed in 1910. The score was a commission by Walter Wilson Cobbett the great champion and benefactor of British chamber music. It follows Cobbett’s obligatory single movement ‘Phantasy’ format. The essay in the booklet and back inlay/page 2 provides two differing sequences of the six sections for the Phantasy but I was unable to discover which one was correct. Rather than use the six sections stated in the booklet notes I have separated the Phantasy into the following eight contrasting sections:

0:00-1:35 - A doom-laden trudge pervades the introductory section for solo piano.

1:36-3:08 - Tender and yearning music that is tinged with but not overwhelmed by a bucolic feel.

3:09-5:10 - A bright and lively section with the character of a country folk-dance.

5:11-9:23 - This heart-warming slow movement develops an increased yearning intensity.

9:24-12:16 - Nimble and waspishly rhythmic, this section cultivates additional weight and force from 11:10-12:16.

12:17-13:40 - A rather languid, sultry feel to the section communicates a sense of exhaustion.

13:41-16:01 - Scampering music of a restless and robust energy. From around 15:20 one notes a distinctive Hungarian/Gypsy feel to the music.

16:02-19:46 - The music is taken at a crawling pace. One wonders if this is a moving lament by Dale for the loss of a loved one.

There are very few discs of Benjamin Dale works currently in the catalogues. The disc most likely to be encountered is the Complete Works for Violin and Piano: Sonata in E major, Op.11 (1922); English Dance (1916); Prunella (1917); Holiday Tune (1922) and Ballade, Op.15 (1926) played by Lorraine McAslan (violin) and Michael Dussek (piano) recorded in 2005 at the Henry Wood Hall, London on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7157. I have another disc titled Heartache: An Anthology of English Viola Music that includes the Romance movement from the Suite for viola & piano played by Dame Avril Piston (viola) and Shamonia Harpa (piano) recorded in 2002 at Potton Hall, Suffolk on Guild GMCD 7275.

The impressive violist Roger Chase displays a rich broad tone performing on the same Montagnana instrument that belonged to Lionel Tertis. Michiko Otaki provides exemplary support. The duo are sterling advocates for the music of this neglected English composer playing throughout with assurance and expression.

This is an outstandingly performed and recorded disc of richly rewarding viola scores that deserve to be heard. I enjoyed this recording from start to finish; undoubtedly one of my Records of the Year for 2008.

Michael Cookson


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