British Piano Trios
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Trio for violin, cello and piano (1921) [22:44]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Phantasie in A minor (1907) [10:55]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Phantasie in C minor (1907) [15:28]
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata (1919) [25:32]
The Hartley Trio (Jacqueline Hartley (violin), Martin Loveday (cello), Caroline Clemmow (piano)); Philip Dukes (viola), Sophia Rahman (piano)
rec. no location specified, July 1990 except Sonata, July 1992. DDD
HERITAGE HTGCD 218 [75:44]

This disc makes a logical and welcome return to availability for four British chamber music recordings made in the 1990s. The twin threads are Clarke's chamber music and Cobbett's phantasie competitions.

Rebecca Clarke was Stanford's first female pupil at the RCM. She wrote two notable and inspirationally original works between the 1910s and 1920s. They're both here. The Trio is fresh, salty and rife with an irresistible collision of Bartókian conflict and dissonance. This keeps company with the sort of lyrical crystalline torrent one finds in Howells' Piano Quartet (Lyrita, Metier, British Music Label or Meridian). It's quite magical. As for the slightly earlier Viola Sonata it's perhaps no surprise that the viola was Clarke's instrument. Indeed she took her place in the viola benches of the Queen's Hall Orchestra. Her Sonata is up there with the Bax Sonata; indeed it is finer and more varied. The exultant mood mixes sunshine and poignant pastoralism with a type of 'highland' dance and song material. This finds echoes in the music of Chisholm, Marek, Bartók and Szymanowski.

The Ireland and Bridge works were written to Cobbett's specification to defeat the garrulous and the windy. This does not mean that the results are dry or academic. The Ireland is barely the length of a concert overture. It already picks up on some exultant Brahmsian strains but deftly blends these with the early stirrings of Ireland's very personal pastoral idiom. The Bridge is even more romantic and its melodic invention is superior to that of the Ireland. It is wonderfully hoarse and the epitome of euphoria in music. If you want to hear the Piano Trio by James Friskin (1886-1967) – also a Cobbett prize winner in 1907 - you can hear it on BMS418CD alongside the Ireland and Bridge but also with the very engaging Moeran Piano Trio of 1923. Friskin married Rebecca Clarke.

There we are: three British trios of which one is by the astonishingly gifted Rebecca Clarke who, like the later Maconchy, added a continental tang to received English countryside wisdoms. You do not know English chamber music until you have heard her Piano Trio and Viola Sonata. This disc opens a compelling and generous way of getting to grips with these works in excellently played and recorded performances.

Rob Barnett

A compelling way of getting to grip with these works in excellently played and recorded performances.