Howard BLAKE (b.1938)
Diversions for cello and piano, Op.337a (1984/85) [23:15]
Pennillion for cello and piano Op. 525a (2001) [8:49]
Cello Sonata, Op.619 (2007/2010) [23:31]
The Enchantment of Venus, Op.566a (2006) [8:07]
Walking in the Air, from The Snowman, Op.620a (1982/2011) [3:54]
Archangel’s Lullaby, Op.436a (1991) [2:01]
Benedict Kloeckner (cello)
Howard Blake (piano)
rec. July 2013 and January 2014, Südwestrundfunk, SWR Studio Kaiserslautern
GENUIN GEN15346 [70:04]

The prolific Howard Blake has made a virtue of recasting many of his works for different instruments or combinations of instruments. This accounts for the many times that opus numbers are followed by the letter ‘a’ – there are five such occasions on this delightfully conceived disc which traces a trajectory from Blake’s Opp.337 to 620. For Blakeans, extra pleasure comes from the fact that the composer is at the piano throughout.

Diversions was originally conceived as a suite for cello and piano but Maurice Gendron suggested it would work for cello and orchestra and edited the solo part (review ~ review). With his Op.337a Blake returns to his original conception with Benedict Kloeckner, who has played it frequently, and has mastered its various moods – whether the bittersweet Prelude, the vital, rhythmically dashing and somewhat Francophile Scherzo, the slow expressive March or the work’s expressive heart, the rapt Aria. Not one to wallow, Blake ensures that the vivacious and slinky Serenade prefaces a rather eerie Sarabande and an exciting Finale.

Composed for the bardic team of violin and harp, Pennillion is heard in its cello-and-piano incarnation here which well suits it, not least in that hypnotic Lento, misterioso section in the work’s centre. The expressive flexibility of the melodic lines, and the affectingly quite close, never fail to move in whatever combination. The Cello Sonata, rather like the Franck arrangement, is a transcription of the Violin Sonata. This is a work I especially admire for its emotive candour. In fact, part of my MWI review of the sonata in its Violin guise is reprinted in the booklet, and my comments apply equally to this version. I’d only say that knowing that it was conceived in memory of fiddle player Miles Baster makes performance on the violin a touch more poignant – though if you didn’t know, it wouldn’t much matter.

The Enchantment of Venus, Op.566a is an arrangement of a work originally for basset clarinet. It was Kloeckner who suggested this arrangement and he certainly ensures that the work’s occasional gruffness but also its essential lyricism are brought to the fore. It has strong March themes – Blake is very good at them - and is well proportioned. Two small pieces see the disc out. Walking in the Air is recorded, for the first time, for cello and piano – a delight, and the piano twinkles deliciously. Finally Archangel’s Lullaby is a perfect envoi, offering a final glimpse at Blake’s seemingly endless gift for melody and beauty.

The recording is well judged and the booklet is sympathetic, quoting from a variety of source material.

Jonathan Woolf

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