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The Romantic Cello Volume 1
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Meditation (c.1912) [2:57]
Berceuse (1901) [2:41]
Sonata (1913-1917) [22:28]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Sonata for cello and piano (1932) [18:00]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Sonata for cello and piano (1916) [13:15]
Caprice (1930) [2:25]
Thomas DAISH (b.1977)
‘Homage to Delius’ (2011) [4:59]
Philip Handy (cello); Robert Markham (piano)
rec. Beaulieu Abbey, 5-6 September 2011
VIF RECORDS VRCD 076 [66:45]

The Romantic Cello
Volume 2
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for cello and piano (1901) [32:12]
Benjamin WOODGATES (b.1986)
Serenade for solo cello (?) [3:53]
Frederick DELIUS
Serenade (from Hassan) (1931) [4:22]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Sonata for cello and piano (1923) [19:53]
Philip Handy (cello); Robert Markham (piano)
rec. Beaulieu Abbey, 17-18 April 2012
VIF RECORDS VRCD082 [60:20]

There are two sides of Frank Bridge’s art on display in the opening tracks of the first volume of ‘The Romantic Cello’. Firstly there are two miniatures, the gently rocking ‘Berceuse’ composed in 1901 and the ‘Meditation’ from a decade later. These are quite definitely character pieces suited to the salon. They are well-crafted and present attractive melodies and accomplished piano accompaniments. The former was originally composed for violin and piano but was issued in a number of guises including an orchestral version. The ‘Meditation’ is a dreamy, reflective piece that is quite openly sentimental in its effect. I do wish that Philip Handy could have found room on this CD for the other three pieces in Julian Lloyd-Webber’s album of ‘Four Pieces for Cello and Piano’ - ‘Serenade’, ‘Elegie’ and ‘Cradle Song’. Then there is a miniature ‘Scherzo’.
 
Another major side of Frank Bridge’s musical character is shown in the magnificent Cello Sonata. I have long regarded this work as my favourite example of the genre - however readers may disagree. The Sonata was composed during the Great War between 1913 and 1917. This, I believe, explains the fundamental dichotomy of the work. The whole ethos of the Sonata hinges on a balance between a ‘pre-war pastoralism’ and a bitter reaction based on the loss and horrors of war. The work is presented in two balanced movements. There is a sub-Brahms feel to this music, yet in places the emerging Bridge is trying to assert himself. In the post-war decades Bridge’s musical style moved toward ‘expressionism’ - with the composer’s admiration for Alban Berg. The two Bs (Brahms and Berg) are evident in these pages, yet the final result is pure Frank Bridge. I was impressed by the performance, and appears to me to exhibit a close sympathy with the music and the mood.
 
I do not know Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata, so it was interesting to be able to approach it here. The mantle of Brahms and Schumann falls over this work, yet there is much that tips over into the post-romantic world. I am not sure that it is possible to identify an American mood here. The sonata is written in three movements. The surprise - for me - of this work is the second movement which effectively combines a poignant adagio with a ‘blistering’ scherzo. Much of the last movement is stormy and impassioned, with a hard-won coda. The signature emotions of this Sonata are ‘passion’ and ‘drama’. The work was composed in 1932 when the composer was 22 years old: it is dedicated to his composition professor, Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
 
Frederick Delius’s Cello Sonata was written during the Great War in 1916. Arthur Hutchings has stated that ‘whether people choose to recognise the fact or not, this work is a masterpiece.’ Philip Handy has suggested that it is a ‘gem’. I find the work somewhat ‘meandering’ and wish that the composer had used a wee bit of ‘modified’ sonata-form rather than indulging in continuous ‘rhapsodising’. It is written as a single movement which is presented in a ‘quasi -ABA structure’. The writing is more austere than listeners used to his ‘Gardens’ and ‘Cuckoo’ would expect. Nevertheless, there is much of beauty in these pages that reveals itself as one gets to know the work. The Cello Sonata was written for the great English cellist, Beatrice Harrison.
 
Delius’s ‘Caprice’ for cello and piano was composed in the last years of his life and was dictated to his amanuensis Eric Fenby. It was originally conceived for cello and chamber orchestra and was again dedicated to Beatrice Harrison. This is hardly a major work by any standard, but has a strong melody and is more melancholy than capricious.
 
The final piece on Volume 1 is Thomas Daish’s attractive ‘Homage to Delius’. The composer states clearly that this is a ‘pastiche’ work: there is no attempt to assimilate the style and create a ‘new’ work. Daish has used elements from Delius’s Cello Sonata, Cello Concerto and ‘Caprice’. He has ‘explored and expanded’ on these throughout the score. It is an exquisite, thoughtful work proving that it is possible to compose worthy works in ‘historic’ styles without seeming naïve or trivial. I hope that this ‘Homage’ will be played at future Delius recitals.
 
The Second Volume of Philip Handy’s exploration of the Romantic Cello opens with Sergei Rachmaninov’s masterwork. When I first heard this sonata over forty years ago, I felt that I had found a chamber music equivalent of Rach 2 -my then favourite concerto! The present work was written at the turn of the twentieth century and received its premiere on 2 December 1901. Philip Handy notes that this sonata has the feel of a concerto about it. In fact, like much of Rachmaninov’s piano music if you half shut your eyes, squint and believe, your mind’s ear ‘supplies’ the orchestra. The Sonata has an impressive textural balance with the piano having a major part in the proceedings. In fact the cello often provides support for the pianist. The sonata is divided into four movements with the ‘scherzo’ being placed second .The heart of the work is the ‘andante’ which is both tender and intimate as well as indulging in passion.
 
I have not come across the music of Benjamin Woodgates before: I lean heavily on the liner-notes for these details. He trained as a chorister at Chichester Cathedral before becoming Music Scholar at Winchester College and subsequently the Organ Scholar at Corpus Christi College Oxford. His compositions have included works for voice, choirs, orchestra, chamber ensemble, pit(?) band and incidental music for theatre performance. They have been featured at a number of important venues and have been heard on BBC Radio. 
The present Serenade is a musical exploration of the sentiments behind Robert Burns’ poem ‘Mary Morrison’. The work is (supposedly) in two contrasting parts - the first is a rather moody, introverted exploration of the ‘theme’. The second is meant to echo the ‘rhythms and sparkle’ of the local town dance. I could not find this ‘up-tempo’ section in the music. Am I missing something? The piece lacks variety and is a little too dark for my taste. It does not reflect the poet’s native wit even when he (Burns) was dealing with matters of the heart.
 
The ‘Serenade’ from Delius’ Hassan is a gorgeous piece that evokes an exotic ‘Eastern’ atmosphere. It has all the hallmarks of Delius ‘classic’ style and makes a fitting companion piece to the ‘Caprice’ heard in Volume 1.
 
The final item on this disc is the wonderful Cello Sonata by John Ireland. This work has seen considerable interest over the past years with ten or so versions currently available in the Arkiv catalogue. However, another edition is always welcome. Although the Sonata offers no ‘programme’ and is clearly meant to be ‘absolute’ music, it is hard not to sense certain literary and landscape ‘atmospherics’ that tie this work to a particular landscape. The ethos of Arthur Machen and the aura of Chanctonbury Hill in Sussex are never far from these pages. The sonata has three movements a ‘moderato e sostenuto’, a ‘poco largamente’ and a ‘finale, con moto a marcato’. I have quoted Marion Scott’s opinion before: she wrote that the Sonata ‘... beginning quietly for cello alone, is cumulative and [ends] very brilliantly!’ Ireland finished his Sonata in December 1923 and was subsequently premiered by Beatrice Harrison and Evlyn Howard-Jones the following year. It is one of the masterpieces of the genre from any nation.
 
Philip Handy studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and won the Music at Beaulieu competition. He subsequently majored at the Royal College of Music and the Birmingham Conservatoire. Handy has performed at many venues across the United Kingdom and has played many of the major concertos including those by Haydn, Elgar, Walton and Dvořák. The present CDs are his first venture in the recording studio.
 
The playing is stunning - from both performers - and the sound quality is ideal. The liner-notes by Philip Handy and Bruce Phillips (Ireland) are helpful. However, some composer and composition dates are omitted. I guess the CD covers could have been a little bit more imaginative and striking. Finally, I wish that timings had been given in Volume 1: I have used my CD player display to provide these details for both discs.
 
I enjoyed all the music on these two CDs: taken as a pair; it makes an excellent compendium of English Cello Music - as well as fine recordings of Sergei Rachmaninov and Samuel Barber.
 
John France 

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