Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Sonata in F major for Violin and Piano The Grasshopper (1917 version — Authorised Original Version) [26:20]
Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
Sonata in F major for Viola and Piano Colleen (1919) [40:02]
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin and viola); Matthew Rickard (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales, 25-26 August 2011
EM RECORDS EMR CD003 [67:01]
The violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck – who also wrote the very capable liner-note - is the same Rupert Luck who recorded the first EM Records release presenting Bliss, Bowen and Walford Davies rarities with blazingly forceful conviction. That confident fervour is to be found here as well with a brace of pretty much unknown sonatas. This pioneering spirit continues to translate into action and achievement. Never underestimate the sheer graft in getting to grips with works that have been, to all intents and purposes, unheard for many years if ever.
The Holbrooke Violin Sonata is closely related to the revised version of the Second Sonata on Naxos where you can also hear the First Sonata and the Horn Trio. Forthcoming is the CPO recording of the orchestral version of the Violin Concerto with the Third Symphony. For this listener the music of this big-hearted romantic sonata recalls the singing ecstatic lines of the César Franck sonata and of early Fauré. I wondered if that Grasshopper title would signify something effete or slight. It is neither. As for the Grasshopper reference this must surely relate to the cadenza-style virtuoso chirruping violin passage at 7:33 at the end of the first movement. By the way this movement runs to 7:54 not the declared 7:24. After a heartfelt Adagio comes an enthusiastically effusive, full-tilt Vivace where the Grasshopper motto returns in the piano at 3:40.
The Bantock Viola Sonata has been on my to-hear list for many years. It all began when I read, back in the early days of the British Music Society, that it had been performed by violist Michael Ponder now a distinguished recording producer. Then in November 1984 it was included in one of Phil Scowcroft’s Doncaster Library concerts performed by Elizabeth Turnbull and Raymond Lewis (piano). The reviewer referred to it as “mighty, unfailingly lyrical”. I never got to hear Ponder’s version nor Turnbull’s – more’s the pity - nor the sonata; not until now It chimes well when coupled with a Holbrooke work. The two men were of the same generation though Bantock died many years before Holbrooke. Each was outside the usual RCM ambit of greatness belonging rather to the dissenters of the RAM. Nothing is ever quite that simple but we might cite the adulation of Brahms as a characteristic of the Stanford-Parry luminaries at the College while the Academy had the Wagner-Liszt-Tchaikovsky faction espoused by Frederick Corder (1852-1932).
There are so many parallels between the two men. Each wrote in a broadly turn of the century late-romantic idiom. Each had a hankering for Celtic culture. Each wrote music for the nascent brass band movement. There were differences too including that Bantock’s character made him a very effective administrator so he was able to hold down various music-academic posts. Holbrooke was a more thrawn character with a prickly surfeit of self-confidence quite out of tune with the organisational environment. Despite clashes Bantock remained loyal and included Holbrooke works in his concerts from 1899 when he conducted the New Brighton orchestra all the way through to his very late recording sessions for Paxton in 1946.
We do not know why the sonata sports the name Colleen. Is it the generic reference to an Irish girl or is there a more personal dimension? With Bantock it is likely to have been very personal. The Colleen Sonata is a densely seething cauldron of the passions, occasionally rather opaquely impenetrable in its textures. The jig-finale is straight-talking and brilliant and not with emotional depths. While his huge catalogue includes the Hebridean and Celtic symphonies there is nothing so directly dance-like as this jig material. In fairness it alternates with a prize of a deeply moving melody at 3:02 onwards. Also the finale transcends its dance roots with a massive insurgency of heated romantic material – some of it rather Brahmsian.
There is so much Holbrooke activity so surely it cannot be all that long before Naxos begin to reissue their Marco Polo Holbrooke discs. These were issued in the 1990s and can still be had. I have listed them after the end of this review.
The generous sponsors of this disc deserve recognition. The list includes familiar names: the Granville Bantock Estate, longstanding Bantock and Holbrooke advocate and distinguished artist, Michael Freeman and Dr Patrick Waller who for many years contributed generously and decisively to the success of MusicWeb International.
The violin and piano sound in Wyastone’s concert hall is nothing if not commandingly assertive – a tribute to Recording Engineer, Richard Bland and Recording Producers: Bjorn Bantock and Matthew Gilley. Good to see a Bantock involved in this project. Em Marshall-Luck, the presides over the continuing project as Executive Producer.
Superbly confident and generous both as to the music and the execution.
Holbrooke on Marco Polo
Ulalume, Bronwen Overture, The Bells Prelude, The Raven, Byron. Slovak Philharmonic Choir, Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bratislava/Adrian Leaper. Marco Polo 8.223446.
Children of Don Overture, Dylan Prelude, The Birds of Rhiannon. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Andrew Penny. Marco Polo 8.223721.
String Sextet; Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet. Endre Hegedüs, piano/New Haydn Quartet/Sándor Papp, viola/János Devich, cello. Marco Polo 8.223736