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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]

Experience Classicsonline

Holbrooke’s Sonata in F major for Violin and Piano The Grasshopper is rather like the proverbial bus, only more complicated. You wait a lifetime for a recording and then two come along at once. Or, rather, three, almost at once. Naxos has just issued its recording of the revised version and there’s a recording of the orchestral version, as a Concerto, due any time now from CPO. And here we have the authorised original version from EM Records. Too many versions? Confused? You’re not the only one.
The work was premiered, as a Concerto, by that eccentric but pioneering English violinist, John Dunn with the composer conducting. I’ve always understood that Holbrooke showed the score to Albert Sammons, who turned it down, claiming it was ‘impossible’. Whether he meant it was impossible technically (unlikely) or impossible musically (possible) I’ve never been sure. What a weird work it is, though. It’s stuffed like a Christmas pudding with so many sixpences it’s possible to bust your teeth on metal and never taste much food. Each time I have listened to it I feel like telling the garrulous composer to get out his red pen and do some editorial work pronto. Maybe that’s what Sammons meant.
It begins promisingly with a gaunt introductory piano figure which is promptly ignored by the violinist and his effusive, soloized lines, expertly delineated by Rupert Marshall-Luck. Matthew Rickard is his fine sonata colleague, and he expertly propels the piano writing, which is powerful, strong and highly effective – Holbrooke was a good pianist and recorded in this capacity – and there’s a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, slowing down, jovial faster material, and some amount of repeated material in a higher register. There are also strong hints that Holbrooke knew his Sarasate. The slow movement returns to ‘gaunt’, then unveils new lyrical patterns with lullaby-like moments which he tries to heighten through glamour and trills, and double stops. There’s a degree of over-egging throughout, though when he reprises material it’s invariably touching. The finale is loquacious to a fault, but the lyricism, as well as the virtuosity, is indeed welcome. Despite everything it’s got the makings of an interesting piece, though it remains rather unfocused and lacks true memorability of ideas and their most apposite development. If you were Sammons, and you’d just got your hands on John Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata, as he had, then I think you too would find Holbrooke’s sonata frustrating.
And yet, infuriating though one sometimes finds it, I like it more than Bantock’s superficially far more professional Viola Sonata in F major. Marshall-Luck does what he can here, and says that he feels that phrases should be given time to breathe to come over most effectively. My own view as a listener, and not performer, is that they should be given less time to breathe. The sonata weighs in at 40 minutes and I don’t feel that so much here justifies the length. There’s no evidence that the obvious recipient at the time, Sammons’s good chum Lionel Tertis, ever had a go at the work. He doesn’t even mention Bantock in his memoirs. Considering that he motored dramatically - but wonderfully - through Arnold Bax’s Sonata, I dread to think what he would have done to Bantock’s.
The late romantic, quietly Brahmsian moments here are effective, touches of a shared Elgarian inheritance too – the work was written in 1919 when Elgar coincidentally was writing his major chamber works. Angularity is restricted but welcome when it arrives. From 6:00 or thereabouts in the first movement there is a truly lovely melody. Lots going on elsewhere, of course, but again, somewhat lacking focus. The quasi-cadential element in the second movement adds to a forlorn spirit, and the cantabile is good, though surely some of the passagework sounds too effortful and deliberate at this tempo? For the finale, out of nowhere, we have an Irish jig. Bantock did a lot of Hebridean and Gaelic things but it’s illogical in the context of this sonata. It’s also too easy. Even when the music slows to reflective reminiscence – not unattractively – the whole shebang doesn’t really add up. The sonata sports the descriptive name Colleen which may well account for the finale, but not much else, to me at least.
Marshall-Luck plays Gustav Holst’s viola in the Bantock and proves a good ambassador for both works, violin and viola, and has clearly spent much time preparing for the undertaking. The recording is good, marginally too close to the viola over the piano, but not damagingly so. It’s fine news that these two pretty much ignored works have been given some careful attention. I admit that having long wondered what The Grasshopper was like, I’m rather disappointed — but don’t let that spoil things for you.
Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Rob Barnett; Nick Barnard
















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