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From Bohemia to Wessex - Cello Music from the Twentieth Century
John Barton ARMSTRONG (1923-2010)
Sonata for cello and piano (1981) [30:59]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Sonata No. 2 for cello and piano (1941) [21:23]
Peter THOMPSON (b.1955)
Sonatina for cello and piano (1981) [9:57]
Lionel Handy (cello)
Nigel Clayton (piano)
rec. Trinity School, Croydon, 30-31 October 2013

This is by no means the first we have heard from these two musicians. Their valuable Bax collection was on Sleeveless SLV1007 (review) and there were two Cadenza CDs each of which has been noted here (review - 20th century cello ~ review - Kodaly). Lionel Handy has also contributed invaluably to the Lyrita catalogue with his Bate and Bax cello concertos (review ~ review ~ review).

John Barton Armstrong (aka Barry Armstrong) was largely self-taught. He served in the Royal Navy during the war. After 1945 he read Law and was called to the Bar but in another sharp career turn he began work for Vickers-Armstrong on aeronautical design. Music beckoned again in 1964 and this time the move was final. There was a music degree at Durham before composition gripped him. He was a prolific composer and his catalogue includes an opera Hamlet — a subject also favoured by Humphrey Searle in his 1969 opera and by the conductor-composer Leslie Heward — five symphonies, a major orchestral piece Symphoon, and a cycle of string quartets. His darkly eddying Cello Sonata is a massive musical statement running over half an hour in a single unbroken span. He pulls no punches. The progress of the music encompasses some dramatic dissonance but the predominant voice is subtle, melodic and ultimately moving.

Handy and Clayton can be heard in Martinu's First Cello Sonata on Cadenza. For the present CD we have the Second Sonata presented as idiomatically fast-flowing, life-enhancing and effervescent. The playing and recording nicely catch the flood and flow of Martinu's music - typical of his early, seemingly euphoric, years in the USA. This sonata is from approximately the same time as the Fourth Symphony, his finest work and one that can be heard in the Sonata. I am not sure which was written first but the two works share plangency (the central Largo) and kinetic drive (the outer movements). This is very fine Martinu playing; up there with Supraphon's Turnovsky recording of the 'companion' symphony (review).

Peter Thompson has been a staunch and open-handed friend to British music for many years. His Fand Press has, in addition to publishing his own compositions, issued scores by Bax, Steel, Gary Higginson, Barton Armstrong and Carey Blyton; the latter one of Thompson's music professors and a composer whose song-cycles including the wonderful Lachrymae, which you really must hear. Among books their Ideala - a resplendent luxury volume of Bax's poems and love letters - is a monument to professionalism and to delight in beauty. The Fand website is also home to a large collection of Carey Blyton CDs. Thompson's own music includes three symphonies and, also for orchestra, Five Elegiac Fragments, Hampshire Summers and Stress - a Prelude. In the chamber field there are six string quartets alongside solo cello works with Baxian titles (Elegiac Ballad) and In Rutland. For cello and piano, in addition to this Sonatina, there is a full Cello Sonata. Add to this nine piano suites, other piano solos and a range of songs. Thompson’s Cello Sonatina is in three short movements. It carries a dedication to his cello teacher, Caroline Bosanquet (1940-2013). The work was premiered at Bretton Hall by David Edmunds with the composer at the piano. It is a tonal and dreamily accessible piece without the dramatic dissonances of the Barton Armstrong. It does not lack for drama: its exciting Allegro feroce finale is notable for its brusque and virile attack contrasted with glittering piano pages. The moods portrayed and established throughout are mature. The composer shows no hankering after rhetorical convention to close each of the three movements. You will leave this part of the disc wanting to hear more.

These are premiere recordings of the Barton Armstrong and Thompson works and each was written in 1981.

The liner-note, variously by Richard Hallas and Peter Thompson, is most informative and is an example of how pleasing appearance and functional value can be combined. Well done.

This far from hackneyed collection of cello sonatas is well performed and presented and is all the more welcome for leaning towards the provocative.
Rob Barnett

Previous review: Krzysztof Stasiak



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