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British Cello Works
Ethel SMYTH (1858-1944)
Cello Sonata in C minor (1880) [28:07]
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994)
Divertimento, for cello and piano (1941-43) [12:28]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983)
Nine Bagatelles, for cello and piano, Op.10 (1942) [7:14]
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Rhapsody for cello and piano (1923) [25:07]
Lionel Handy (cello)
Jennifer Hughes (piano)
rec. 2018, Royal Academy of Music, London
LYRITA SRCD.383 [73:06]

Lionel Handy and Jennifer Hughes’ last Lyrita disc programmed the cello sonatas of Ireland and Bax and added Delius’ Third Violin Sonata in its cellistic guise. Their latest disc steps further back in time to Ethel Smyth’s 1880 sonata and further forward to take in Lutyens and Maconchy, whose works were written at almost the same time during the War.

Smyth’s Sonata in C minor is in her best echt-Brahmsian style, with a strong lyric cantilever and personalisation in the form of a lšndler as an Allegretto. To add more zest there’s a delightful folkloric drone in the trio of this movement. The Andante offers a series of variations with plenty of variety, play of faster and slower sections and a sure sense of direction. If the finale is rather School of Leipzig, that’s no bad thing necessarily. Smyth collectors have always been in Troubadisc’s debt for its pioneering releases devoted to Smyth’s music but this new slightly more expansive performance is very much to be preferred. Handy and Hughes are articulate, expressive and playful exponents.

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Divertimento was written for the duo of William Pleeth and Margaret Good between 1941-43. The five movements are tremendously witty and off-beat with a Latin dance to start – insinuating and sexy – and a Russian mood in the next movement oscillating between lyricism and expressive heart. The Clock is the title of the central panel and that is the trigger for pizzicato tick-tocking; a droll miniature that strikes nine and then, like a music box, is rewound. The centre of the Divertimento is the fourth part, called Vigil, the longest movement and a beautifully vibrant and prayerful piece. A dapper Masquerade brings to a close yet another in Maconchy’s portfolio of characterful, approachable, and truly delightful works.

This brings us to Elisabeth Lutyens. Her Nine Bagatelles of 1942 offers compressed, sparse and aphoristic music-making. The Poco allegro is as catchy as it gets here, and I have to say I found it all rather windswept. Rebecca Clarke’s Rhapsody was written in 1923, the same year Bax and Ireland wrote their Cello Sonatas. Here Lyrita is in competition with itself as Raphael Wallfisch and John York have already recorded this on SRCD.354 (review) in an all-Clarke disc. Once again Lyrita has very helpfully separately tracked the four distinct sections. This performance is lean and intense, its architecture adroitly charted, the interplay between the instruments finely judged. Clarke’s dissonances are respected and the music’s fugitive folkloric episodes wisely presented. There’s very little difference in conception between the two competing Lyrita recordings, though Wallfisch is probably the more expansive tonalist.

You’ll have noticed that this disc is an all-female British affair. It’s also finely documented and recorded. The performances are malleable, sympathetic and stylistically assured. I look forward to the next Handy-Hughes release; they are offering things that the Watkins brothers don’t on their Chandos British sonatas series.

Jonathan Woolf

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