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Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Music for Cello and Piano
Rhapsody (1923) [24.26]
I'll bid my heart be still (1944) [3.48]
Cello Sonata (1919, arr. by composer arranged from Viola Sonata) [22.40]
Passacaglia on an Old English Tune (1941) [4.57]
Epilogue (1921?) [5.39]
Dialogue with Rebecca Clarke
(2007) [6.25]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
John York (piano)
rec. April 2015, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth. Stereo. DDD

Just bear with me a little whilst I share a conversation with you. My great-grandmother was born just a year before Rebecca Clarke and became a professional violinist, fighting for recognition. She knew Rebecca Clarke and at some time around 1925 she attended a performance of Clarke’s Cello Sonata, I know not where. I had the unusual foresight to record, on a now rather mildewed cassette, a conversation with my great grandmother in 1973 the year before her death. I quote a few remarks. “She was really a very passionate woman and a marvellous musician and composer, you know; so much better than tedious old Ethel (Smyth) … and we thought her the ‘bull's eye’; Stella (Stella Stockland (1858-1925), American conductor and composer) said so too … Of course, she (Clarke) was never the same after she took up with Jimmy Friskin; just a few miniatures and trifles after that … such a shame … we loved her and Bax did too, let me tell you.” These 'trifles' may include the two lovely short pieces recorded here. There's the rather neo-classical Passacaglia, and I'll bid my heart be still which is not a transcription of a song as I had originally thought but a stand-alone miniature. A third miniature, the wonderfully melancholic Epilogue, which is much in the language of the Sonata, probably dates from the early 1920s.

I re-heard that faded conversation just before listening to the Cello Sonata adapted by Clarke from the sonata for viola. What a moving and passionate work, so full of influences from its own time. It's quite modern in some ways for 1920. How those women, perhaps, like my great-grandmother, part of the suffragette movement, must have admired Rebecca Clarke. She (Clarke) was Stanford’s first female pupil and an orchestral musician on a par with the men in what seemed to be a man’s world. By the way, my great-grandmother thought the Scherzo of the Sonata “impossible”.

On digging deeper one discovers that there are about one hundred surviving Clarke compositions. I believe that I saw some frayed manuscripts of a work for two violins but neither my mother nor I can recollect their whereabouts. The taped conversation fades but we discussed Clarke’s “difficult” rhythms and what my relation called her “poly-harmonies”. The Violin Sonata in D major she had played but again we cannot locate a presumably, annotated score. I think Clarke heard her play it but was the work published at that time? As we speak even the Rhapsody, recorded here, is being prepared by John York to be published for the first time in 2017.

This CD, so wonderfully and emotionally played by Raphael Wallfisch and John York also includes the Rhapsody for cello and piano. I agree with York in his excellent notes that this is probably Clarke’s masterpiece. The four interconnected movements live on the edge of tension and nervous energy. I say that despite the fact that three of the sections are quite slow although the first develops into a strong Allegro. The third is a fleeting but stormy scherzo which seems to have much to express and fights to get it out. I would advise any young composer, once this score is available, to purchase it, as the cello part is so full of variety and so idiomatic that one might think that the composer played it herself.

Raphael Wallfisch and John York, as you might expect, make a great partnership and they know the music inside out especially the Sonata. As a consequence of York’s involvement with Clarke’s music he has composed Dialogue with Rebecca Clarke, which although it is very much its own piece does quote some Clarke fragments. Stylistically it seems to me the sort of work Clarke herself might well have enjoyed, using, as it does, some of whole tone harmonies and repetitive rhythms one finds in her Cello Rhapsody and in the much better known Piano Trio.

The recording is fine and serves its purpose well. However it is at times a little unbalanced and sometimes even choked for air but this is a small point.

The disc is essential for anyone with an interest in British music. Quite remarkably I find that Rebecca Clarke died on the very day I was married.

Gary Higginson
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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