British Music for Cello and Piano
William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)
Sonata No.2 in G minor Op.66 (1959) [16:19]
Nocturne Op.29 (1946) [5:39]
Scherzo Op.42 (1949) [2:38]
Sonata for Violoncello Op.70 (1961) [11:56]
Josef HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Fantasie-Sonate Op.19 (1904) [14:38]
William BUSCH (1901-1945)
Suite (1943) [13:54]
A Memory (1944) [3:14]
Elegy (1944) [7:09]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Raphael Terroni (piano)
rec. Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Stoke d’Abernon, Cobham, Surrey, England 9 October 2008 (Wordsworth) and 18 February 2010 (Holbrooke & Busch)
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS436CD [75:33]
As soon as you read the names of Wallfisch and Terroni on the cover of this British Music Society CD you know you are in safe musical hands for this journey through yet more unfamiliar British music. And so it proves with another fine addition to the BMS catalogue. Although both performers have extensive recorded catalogues, has any performer done as much to enrich the catalogue of British music on any instrument as Wallfisch has for the cello? Any collector even passingly interested in this repertoire is eternally in his debt.
All three composers have benefited in recent years from the ever-spreading net of rare repertoire caught on CD. From a purely personal standpoint I find that Holbrooke is the composer here whose stature has increased least with greater familiarity. Conversely, the music of William Busch – all but unknown to even the most enthusiastic collector of British music – has had to be seriously reassessed in the light of the excellent orchestral CD from Lyrita which of course included his Cello Concerto also played by Wallfisch. Another Lyrita CD from some years back featured symphonies by William Wordsworth. For reasons I’ve never quite managed to fathom these works never caught my imagination as much as many other contemporaneous British symphonies. I will go back to that disc now in the light of having enjoyed the first half of this disc devoted to Wordsworth’s cello and piano works. Both of the sonatas recorded here - the Op. 70 is for solo cello – are serious works. Although neither could be termed ‘big’ in duration terms they both possess concentrated intent and distilled energy that makes for compelling listening. Malcolm MacDonald has contributed his typically insightful and informative note. Regarding the Sonata No.2 Op.66 he notes a kinship between the very opening motif and Bach. Somehow I think this is very intentional by Wordsworth – something of the earlier composer’s formal rigour pervades the work. MacDonald also hears a link with Shostakovich – Wordsworth had met the Soviet composer in 1959; the year of this work’s composition. I’m not so sure of that – to my ear it seems to have more to do with a common ground tonally and musically from which the work springs. The close of the work – it is written in one continuous sub-divided movement – has more echoes of Walton I thought.
I cannot think of many other pieces of contemporary music written for the viola da gamba but the Nocturne Op.29 is one such. It is the earliest work by Wordsworth on the disc dating from 1946 and was subsequently arranged for cello. The simplicity and lyrical nature makes it both instantly appealing and ideally suited to the instrument. The glorious sound Wallfisch makes is present here as throughout but he finds just the right amount of withheld projection so that this essentially simple music is allowed to flow with easy grace. Likewise Terroni is a past master at gauging the accompaniment making a virtue out of the unassuming character of the work. The following Scherzo Op.42 again benefits from the easy virtuosity of the performers allowing the quick-silver slightly angular character of it to register with the minimum of apparent effort. At just 2:38 it is literally the slightest work on the disc. As mentioned before the Op. 70 Sonata is for solo cello. Aside from the Bax Rhapsodic Ballad and some Bantock I cannot think of many British works for solo cello of this scale that predate this one – the three Britten Cello Suites come from 1964-71. There were the models of the Kodály and Hindemith sonatas but this proves to be very much Wordsworth’s own work. Again, it feels ‘bigger’ than a sub-twelve minute work. This time the three movements are separate. Wallfisch is masterly at giving the piece a sense of line and musical sense.
After that the big romantic gestures of the Holbrooke Fantasie-Sonate Op.19 seem rather generic. Not that any of the Wordsworth sounds at all English but it has its own definable character. By its side the Holbrooke sounds simply broadly Romantic. According to MacDonald Holbrooke competed for several of the W.W. Cobbett chamber music prizes and he links this sonata in its multi-movement-in-one form to that. I had always thought the Cobbett prize was more linked to the Elizabethan Phantasy with thematic cross-referencing within the single movement form. Given that the original version of this sonata predates the founding of the prize in 1905 by a year I think the link is coincidental. In later years Holbrooke was to compete successfully for the prize but that is another story. If you take the years 1904-5 for British music alone it produced the Delius Mass of Life, Elgar In the South and Introduction & Allegro, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony was ‘in production’ and even younger composers like Holst and Bax were beginning to flex their individuality with The Mystic Trumpeter and Cathleen-ni-Houlihan respectively. Perhaps it is not totally fair to compare a relatively modest chamber work with big orchestral or choral works but my point is the audible individuality that all of the above contain in spades. For all his craftsmanship and flair for piquant harmonies the conclusion remains that Holbrooke was a lesser composer.
Conversely, the Busch Suite and particularly the Elegy which closes the disc makes you wish for much more. Again, MacDonald is bang on target when he describes the opening Prelude as having the character of “an impassioned oration”. Both this suite and the earlier 1940 Cello Concerto were written for Florence Hooton. Here, as elsewhere in the suite, the effect is intensely passionate and powerful but Busch’s skill is the economy with which he projects this music. All four movements are models of clarity in their writing. The dialogue between the two players is achieved with easy perfection. The economy of writing reaches its pinnacle in the shortest and possibly finest movement of the suite – the third movement Nocturne is nothing short of masterly – a short poignant musing over a past tragedy. Perhaps in the light of that I find the closing Tarantella to be of least interest – full of energy and flamboyance but somehow less significant. The lyrical reflective tone of the Nocturne is revisited in A Memory. According to Busch’s daughter Julia Cornaby Busch in her article about her father on this site he described this as “a peaceful piece, I thought of looking into Nicholas’s room as he slept.” The Nicholas mentioned is his son Nicholas Busch who went on to become one of the great orchestral horn players in London. His marvellous version of the Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with Ian Partridge, or the horn solo in the Tennstedt/Lucia Popp version of the Strauss Four Last Songs should be in every collection.
Perhaps A Memory is somehow not of its time – 1944 – but the composer’s voice speaks here with individuality and originality – even more so in the closing Elegy. The cello is very much the dominant voice here and surely in the lamenting song the cello sings it is not too hard to hear the work as an ‘anthem for doomed youth’ and as such very much of its time. Wallfisch plays the entire programme superbly but, as in a disc I reviewed recently of his performance of the great Bridge Oration, he seems especially adept at projecting angry regret. Busch allows a final ray of hope to appear as the piece ends in a wispy major tonality; a wonderfully ambiguous ending to a superbly concentrated work.
The quality of the recording comes to the fore here too. Although dating from sessions some eighteen months apart producer John Talbot and engineer Paul Arden-Taylor have created a perfect balance between the instruments and set them just far enough back into the hall’s acoustic to allow all the detail to register without the sound being in any way oppressive. Heartfelt thanks once again to the BMS for another triumphant disc. The Wordsworth and Busch works are major contributions to the repertoire, the latter especially and how wonderful to be in a position to be able to hear the Holbrooke too even if it is the moon to the other work’s sun. If by any chance the Lyrita disc of the Busch concertos has passed you by I urgently commend it to you. I hope that a company will look to record the remainder of Busch’s far from extensive catalogue but in the meantime this is a wonderful sample.
As soon as you read the names of Wallfisch and Terroni you know you are in safe musical hands for this journey through yet more unfamiliar British music