William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)
Cello Sonata No 2 in G minor, Op.66 (1959) [16.17]
Nocturne, Op.29 (1946) [5.42]
Scherzo, Op.42 (1949) [2.37]
Sonata for solo cello, Op.70 (1961) [11.57]
Josef HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Fantasie-Sonate, Op.19 (1904) [14.42]
William BUSCH (1901-1945)
Suite for cello and piano (1943) [13.56]
A Memory (1944) [3.12]
Elegy (1944) [7.13]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Raphael Terroni (piano)
rec. Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, 2008/10
NAXOS 8.571361 [75.35]
One is grateful indeed to Naxos for reissuing the recordings originally made by the British Music Society (reviews), but this is really rather an odd reissue. I say “odd” because two of the major items here, the Wordsworth Second Sonata and the Busch Suite, were already included in an earlier release from Naxos (8.571352) issued as recently as last year and indeed reviewed by myself for this site. I would suspect that many potential purchasers of these two works (not otherwise available in the catalogues) will have bought the earlier release and may not feel inclined now to fork out for a second disc simply in order to obtain the Wordsworth solo sonata, the Holbrooke fantasie-sonata, or the brief miniatures by Busch and Wordsworth which now fill out this new issue. Presumably the Leighton and Cooke pieces which appeared on the release last year are also to be reissued, but it seems a very odd way to deal with this material.
Since I reviewed the Wordsworth and Busch pieces so recently, it is probably best if I begin by giving a revised summary of what I said about these performances last year; and then I will proceed to the additional items included in this latest reissue.
The Wordsworth Second Sonata is certainly most attractive on initial acquaintance. The work is in three linked movements (separately tracked here), and in the original release Robert Kay’s notes even cited the influence of Brahms on the music (these notes have now been replaced by texts by Malcolm MacDonald which I suspect may derive from the original EMS release). Although the writing is largely lyrical rather than virtuosic, there is also a sense of brooding melancholy which is most definitely of the twentieth century; and although the work was written before the composer’s move to the Scottish Highlands in 1961, there is also a decidedly Celtic atmosphere. It is shocking to see how little of Wordsworth’s music is currently available on CD, although there are plenty of broadcast relays available on the internet which repay exploration. But this composer deserves more plentiful modern performances, and we should be grateful for this one. The opening movement has a hieratic grandeur, and the closing ‘finale’ section has a quirky insouciance which should raise a wry smile.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the work by William Busch is more forbidding and less approachable – Robert Kay noted the influence of Shostakovich on the work, but the material is quite tough in manner and the strenuous demands on both players do not always make for comfortable listening. The Suite consists of four fairly brief movements, with plenty of variety, but the best of Busch is to be found elsewhere. The two short pieces added for this reissue are more sheerly pleasurable, although A memory (a song transcription) is rightly described by Malcolm MacDonald in his informative booklet note as little more than a sketch.
I now turn to the other new items on this CD. Wordsworth’s sonata for unaccompanied cello (unusually for this medium) makes relatively little use of double-stopping to provide a harmonic accompaniment for the solo line, but the melodic material is well able to support this bare treatment and the scherzo with its use of harmonics to provide contrast is a real gem. Even better is the Nocturne, originally written for viola da gamba but far from antiquarian in its emotional strength and with a beautifully contrasted middle section to offset the dreamy outer material. The Scherzo too is a miniature delight, piquant and cheeky by turns and with a delightfully ‘ticking’ piano ostinato.
The Holbrooke Fantasie-Sonata is, as one would expect from this composer, a solidly romantic piece with plenty of red meat on its carcase. It is interesting to read a quotation cited by Malcolm MacDonald from no less a critic than Ernest Newman: “Holbrooke can do quite easily and unconsciously what Strauss has only done half a dozen times in his career – he can write a big, heartfelt melody that searches us to the very bone.” It is not stated to which of Holbrooke’s vast output of compositions Newman was referring, but even given that critic’s sideswipe at Strauss (a composer whom he frequently criticised unjustly, much to the annoyance of George Bernard Shaw) the statement can certainly be applied to much of the Holbrooke music that I have heard. I have before on these pages pleaded for more of this composer’s output to be recorded, and this sonata is another and welcome contribution to this.
So, if the potential purchaser has not already bought the earlier CD, or even if they don’t mind a degree of reduplication, the additional items on this disc well repay investigation. The performances throughout are excellent, as is the recorded sound.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
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