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Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata (1919) [24:41]
Lullaby (1909) [4:19]
Lullaby on an Ancient Irish Tune (1913) [2:49]
Untitled Piece for viola and piano (c.1918) [6:10]
Chinese Puzzle (1921) [1:57]
Passacaglia (on an old English tune) (1941) [6:04]
I’ll bid my heart be still (c.1944) [3:47]
Morpheus (1918) [8:13]
Dumka (c.1941) [10:21]
Duo R¨nya: Diana Bonatesta (viola) and Arianna Bonatesta (piano)
Gabriele Campagna (violin: Dumka)
rec. December 2013, Chiesa parrocchiale di Monticello, Lonigo
AEVEA AE16008 [68:17]

Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata has assumed repertory status by now and its international standing is reflected in recordings from a wide range of players. It is, in any case, a cosmopolitan kind of work, avidly Anglo-French in orientation, and requiring appreciation of its changeable moods and inflections to bring out its own particular beauties. The latest performance to come my way is this all-Clarke disc from Duo R¨nya – that’s to say the Bonatesta sisters, Diana and Arianna. The duo has a thoughtful and sensitive approach to the work, taking their full time over it, the better to examine and project its expressive contouring. There are many instrumental felicities along the way and the piano’s harmonic shifts are especially well brought out. What the performance rather lacks is phrasal continuity. Paul Coletti (Helios CDH55085), Barbara Westphal (Bridge 9109) and Tabea Zimmermann (Myrios MYR004) all shape the opening paragraphs with a greater sense of impetus and logic. Here tension can sag, and the full range of tone colours is missing from that Adagio finale, where phraseology isn’t quite convincing. In terms of overall approach it reminds me somewhat of Garfield Jackson and Martin Roscoe’s recording (ASV DCA932) though the Italian duo takes even longer over the finale, stretching it almost to 12 minutes. Zimmermann and Kirill Gerstein remain the leading candidates in this sonata.

The church acoustic, which imparts a slightly cloudy echo to proceedings, may have had something to do with blunting the sonata’s impact. The smaller pieces, perhaps because they are less complex, fare better though even here one feels the duo’s tendency to elongate things is harmful to the structural bases of Clarke’s lovely genre pieces. The Lullaby is taken at a perfect tempo, but Diana Bonatesta’s tone spreads in the acoustic sometimes – notably in the Lullaby on an Ancient Irish Tune where the playing lacks a bit of shape. The Untitled Piece of 1917-18 is played with languid warmth but Morpheus is decidedly too lateral, and fails to impress. Violinist Gabriele Campagna joins the duo for the Dumka, which redresses things and is well balanced.

These small pieces mirror almost exactly the selection Philip Dukes and Sophie Rahman played on their Naxos disc (8.557934 – their Sonata is marred by an unsustainably slow first movement) though Dukes is the more natural exponent of the music.

These are conscientious performances and have been accorded a decent booklet note. The recording venue, though, is not wholly sympathetic and the playing rather lacks tonal variety and rhythmic brio.

Jonathan Woolf



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