British Works for Cello and Piano Vol. 1
Charles Hubert H. PARRY (1848-1918)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in A major (1879-80, revised 1883) [26:31]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D major (1916) [13:10]
Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
Hamabdil, Hebrew melody in G minor (1919) [5:40]
John FOULDS (1880-1939)
Sonata for Piano and Cello, Op. 6 (1905, revised 1927) [24:33]
Paul Watkins (cello)
Huw Watkins (piano)
rec. 5-6 April (Delius, Foulds, Bantock) and 5 June (Parry) 2012, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN 10741 [69:58]

There certainly was a sizeable number of works for cello and piano written in late nineteenth/early twentieth century Britain. Personally I wouldn’t have argued if the word England had been used instead of Britain. The booklet notes are correct to say that few of these cello works have established themselves in the repertory. Not surprisingly on recordings and recital programmes it is difficult if near impossible to displace the works of the great masters Beethoven and Brahms who continue to take centre stage. I’ve noticed that the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata has become an extremely popular choice for soloists. Consequently many wonderful scores even those by the great composers Mendelssohn and Chopin tend to get overlooked. So it comes as no surprise that British cello and piano scores are very much down the pecking order. Looking on the bright side that means there is plenty of high quality music to discover. The four British works contained on this Chandos release from Parry; Delius; Bantock and Foulds are certainly worth hearing and have all been recorded before. This Chandos series still has plenty of scope as there are many other significant British works for cello and piano.

In 1998 Jeremy Dibble’s excellent biography ‘C. Hubert H. Parry: His Life and Music’ started to bring attention to the life Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Earlier this year a BBC documentary about Parry titled ‘The Prince and Composer’ directed by John Bridcut and presented largely by the HRH The Prince of Wales, a lifelong Parry enthusiastic, has helped to create a resurgence of interest in Parry’s life and music. I notice that the programme is now available on DVD. Certainly the combined efforts of Parry and his colleague Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music had a remarkable effect on two generation of British composers. Known almost exclusively for his popular anthem Jerusalem Parry’s output contains many high quality works including the Cello Sonata in A major contained here. Written in 1879/80 and revised in 1883 this substantial three movement score inhabits a lyrical romantic vein that owes a good deal stylistically to Brahms; a composer that Parry certainly admired. The turbulent writing of the opening movement Allegro is sharply contrasted with the tender, lovestruck sentiments of the Andante sostenuto.A mainly good natured movement the Finale develops a squally quality together capped off by an exuberant Coda.
During the First World War in 1916 when Frederick Delius wrote his Cello Sonata in D major he was exiled from his home in Grez outside Paris living in England out of the way of the hostilities. At this time Delius was at the peak of his powers having already written such works as Sea Drift; Brigg Fair; Summer Night on the River and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. The single movement sonata is dedicated to cellist Beatrice Harrison who premièred the score at London in 1918. I was struck by the intense brooding quality of the opening section. In addition the writing shifts in mood and intensifies in weight to provide a dramatic conclusion.
A prolific composer Sir Granville Bantock in the last couple of decades has been well served in the record catalogue especially by the Hyperion label. Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony, Celtic Symphony, Fifine at the Fair, Thalaba, The Destroyer and The Pierrot of the Minute are marvellous works certainly worth getting to know. That said a quick look down his worklist shows there is still a considerable number of works yet to be recorded. Given the quality of Bantock’s music it remains terribly neglected in the concert hall. Bantock wrote several works for cello and piano including two cello sonatas. Written in 1919 Hamabdil, known as the ‘Hebrew melody’ in G minor is a transcription by Bantock of a Jewish hymn. Hamabdil is an expressive work using material from an entr'acte in the composer’s incidental music to Judith an Arnold Bennett play. A glorious miniature Hamabdil contains heartrending lyricism and I’m surprised that the radio station Classic FM isn’t playing it to death. Those who enjoy Hamabdil may wish to try Pibroch, A Highland Lament another Bantock work for cello and piano in a similar vein.  

Manchester born John Foulds was a professional orchestral musician notably playing cello with the Hallé Orchestra in his home city. In 1905 when Foulds was writing his Cello Sonata, Op. 6 he would have been playing cello with the Hallé. It has taken me some time but I now find this Cello Sonata considerably more engaging than I did when I received a review disc in 2002. The account I reviewed was played by Jo Cole and John Talbot from a disc of première recordings titled ‘English Cello Sonatas’ from the British Music Society BMS423CD. I find the sonata a formidable score, resolute and serious. The opening movement contains an impressive range of contrasting moods from geniality to angst. Intensely tender tinged with a touch of melancholy the assured Lento movement has a number of notable virtuosic effects. I especially enjoyed the mightily impressive and upbeat Finale remarkable for having three cadenzas.
The performers cellist Paul Watkins and his pianist brother Huw have already recorded a disc of ‘British Cello Sonatas’. Back in 2001 they recorded a programme of Bridge, Britten, Goehr and Huw Watkins on Nimbus NI 5699 (see review). On this Chandos disc the Watkins brothers make a fine partnership clearly relishing this type of repertory. Both easily adapt to the demands of the writing playing with precision and rich expression yet when necessary they demonstrate their sensitivity. The playing is technically secure with both instruments having an attractive timbre. Recorded at the Potton Hall the sound quality is very acceptable, clear with an excellent balance. Lovers of British chamber music will want to own this release.  

Michael Cookson

Lovers of British chamber music will want to own this release.