The well-loved team of Smith and Sellick made many prestigious discs together after Cyril Smith’s catastrophic aeroplane decompression-induced stroke of 1956 ended his solo career. This indeed was the last of them, being recorded only a month before his death at the age of not quite sixty-five.
It’s been in Nimbus’s catalogue a goodly number of years and rightly so, as it contains performances of perception and involvement, in which the obstacles afforded are tenaciously overcome, and the resultant music-making emerges as vital and fluid, sonorous and galvanising.
Even so, the dangers posed by the Franck and Mendelssohn should not be underestimated. Given that Smith had lost the use of his left arm he played primo, so that the edition used for both these works was that of the arrangement for three hands made by John Odom. It works effectively in both cases. The Franck witnesses a noble seriousness and compact ensemble, excellently accredited balancing, and the build-up of textures and sonorities give great weight and colour to the music-making. There are no indications at all that Smith was so near death. Where the expansive Franck calls for some embellishments, the Mendelssohn’s intensive working out – it’s a marvellously inventive but very busy piece – proves equally demanding on technique and ensemble. It proves to be the ebullient mid-century antipode to the later Franck’s introspective meditation, but charts the duo’s indomitable command of genre in no small measure. Again the arrangement is successful; it’s hard to tell which adaptation was the more difficult, though on balance probably the Mendelssohn.
There are two splendid Schubert performances also to consider. The D.617 Sonata is played with the suggestive and limpid delicacy it deserves in the central slow movement and is vested with bucolic high spirits in the outer ones. The Fantasie in F minor throws up the greater challenges and its buoyant but often hauntingly realised intimacies are duly revealed, though never over-sculpted, by Smith and Sellick. Finally there is the Fauré Dolly Suite
, which I assume – as with the Schubert – was also the work of John Odom. Easeful charm, apposite weight and rhythmic acuity mark out this realisation. There’s a notably well nourished and sustained Tendresse
The acoustic is somewhat boomy but its 1974 provenance in no way obscures the commanding musicality to be heard in this eighty minute recital.