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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Sonata for Viola and Piano (1917) (arr. Martin Outram) [24:17]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Reflection (1930) [4:05]
Portrait No 2 ‘EBB’ (1930) (arr. Outram) [3:55]
Lachrymae op. 48 Reflections on a song of Dowland (1950) [13:25]
There is a willow grows aslant a brook (1927) (arr. Britten, 1932) [8:05]
Pensiero (1905 rev. 1907/8) [3:59]
Allegro Appassionato (1907/08) [2:29]
Benjamin BRITTEN
Elegy (1930) [6:41]
Martin Outram (viola)
Julian Rolton (piano)
rec. 16-18 November 2012, Wyastone Concert Hall.

There seems no reason for me to alter my view of the playing of these two musicians, given that comments from a previous review appear on the back of the jewel case of this latest CD. Outram remains a great ambassador for British chamber music and Rolton is a splendid colleague in every respect. Together they have constructed a programme that focuses on Britten and Bridge, pupil and teacher respectively, and the homage paid to the older man when Britten arranged so beautifully Bridge’s There is a willow grows aslant a brook. Both too played the viola, and indeed both recorded on the instrument - albeit in Britten’s case in a very minor way.
The surprise here is Martin Outram’s arrangement for viola of Bridge’s 1917 Cello Sonata. This would not have been a surprise, though, to an executant-proselytizer such as Lionel Tertis who routinely did this sort of thing – Delius, Elgar, Bach, Dohnányi, Mozart, you name them - but which is less often encountered in our time. I have to say the transcription works very well. The work itself spans the years 1913-17, probably begun as a four-movement affair but gradually taking shape as two-movements, with the slow movement and scherzo compressed. The result is certainly akin to the type of works written for the Cobbett Competition, although the stipulation there was for one-movement fantasia-like chamber pieces. No matter, the warm lyricism of the relatively idyllic, prelapsarian first-movement is well conveyed, and Rolton’s ripplingly supportive playing is an apt foil for Outram. If the cello sings the more ardently than the viola, it’s not by much. The ruminative and yearning second part of the work, composed in 1917 reflects tauter and more intense feelings, forlorn in the viola recitatives and an ending that can be variously interpreted as hopeful, defiant or (deliberately) misplaced in confidence.
The other works by Bridge are Pensiero and Allegro Appassionato, which are often programmed as a pair on discs these days, and make for an attractive and contrasting duo, the first thoughtful, the second driving and powerful. Paul Hindmarsh’s 1980 arrangement of the 1904 Allegretto is affectionately played.
Britten’s early works are full of glimmerings of her soon-to-be-mature finest qualities. The Elegy is especially mature for 1930, phrasing trailing off and evaporating in an expression of deep intensity and fragmentary loss. Reflection finds Britten exploring harmonic matters whilst Portrait No 2 ‘EBB’, again from 1930, arranged by Ourtam, is again an unsettled and in some ways unsettling piece – amazing to think that these were the products of a 16 year old. The mature Britten is represented by Lachrymae, a long-established part of the repertoire, launched by William Primrose at its première (does a performance by Primrose survive?). Outram’s performance is fast and quite plainly spoken. He clearly has little time for more overtly sombre interpretations and is consistently lighter on his feet (and fingers) than most, and even witty – try the pizzicato passage, for instance. His approach therefore is cooler and less angular than many that I’ve heard, and if the unveiling of If My Complaints is less heart-stopping than it can be, Outram and Rolton play it at a fine tempo. Slow tempi here tend to sap it of nobility. I sometimes wondered if the gaps between variations were not a little too extended.
Excellently recorded and well annotated this is another fine contribution to British viola music on disc. There have been many in the last decade or so, but Outram has been responsible for his fair share.
Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Dominy Clements (March 2014 Recording of the Month)
Britten discography & review index