Brothers Paul and Huw Watkins continue their survey of British Works for Cello and Piano, with Sonatas from York Bowen (1884-1961), Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) and John Ireland (1879-1962). All three were written for the same cellist, Beatrice Harrison, and composed within three years of each other (1921-23). Sometimes known as ‘the English Rachmaninov’, Bowen’s Sonata is full of rich and virtuosic writing for both instruments, yet he also shows great subtlety, especially in his use of a recurring bell-like figure, which he makes use of in each of the three movements. The rhapsodic central slow movement provides the emotional heart here, and the energetic finale brings the work to a dramatic close. Bax’s Sonata is the most substantial of the three works here, coming in at just over half an hour long. For the central slow movement, Bax reuses music from an earlier symphonic poem, Spring Fire, and the writing is particularly expressive and evocative. He rounds the work off with a lively, folk-inspired dance. Rather than driving straight to a lively finish, however, Bax places an Epilogue before the final climax, giving him the opportunity to pull together threads from the whole sonata, creating a very satisfying conclusion. Ireland’s Sonata finishes the disc here, and in contrast, it is more contained and concise. In fact much of the sonata’s musical material is derived from just a few of the cello’s opening bars. This economical use of material creates an intensity that is particularly noticeable in the slow movement, with both players getting to play its beautiful singing melody. The finale is somewhat brief, but highly virtuosic, with a dashing finish. The Watkins brothers inhabit this music convincingly, certainly making one wonder why these works are not heard more often. I enjoyed this second volume even more than the first, so await a third with anticipation.
Various. 2013. British Works for Cello and Piano, Volume 2. Paul Watkins, Huw Watkins. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10792.
A couple of years ago I enjoyed discovering the Piano Quartets of Romanian composer George Enescu (1881-1955) performed by the Schubert Ensemble. They have returned with another disc of his chamber music, with his Piano Quintet, the Piano Trio, and a brief Aria and Scherzino for solo violin, accompanied by a sextet ensemble. As with the first disc, I find his music intriguing and difficult to pin down. There are influences of his French teachers Jules Massenet, and especially Gabriel Fauré, and one can also sense the influences of his time studying and performing as a young man in Vienna. But somehow the combination of these influences with his strong use of Romanian folk melodies and idioms create a highly individual and fascinating sound world. His writing for the violin is particularly strong, and he was a highly accomplished violinist and teacher, counting Yehudi Menuhin amongst his pupils. The Piano Quintet is the most substantial work on offer here, and it was unknown in Enescu’s lifetime – in fact he never even heard it performed. It was only discovered and performed in the 1960s. The structure is in itself interesting, with essentially two large-scale parts, each further split into two, to create its four movements. The music moves from extremes of intensity and darkness (particularly in the slow second movement) to lightness and dance-like folksiness, as in the opening to the third movement. The Piano Trio has complex origins, being completed from Enescu’s original manuscript by Pascal Bentoiu, considered the authority on Enescu’s music. Furthermore, the Schubert Ensemble has further revised the edition as a result of their process of exploration of this music, and there are some interesting notes on this process with the CD. In this Trio, Enescu manages to balance an overarching structure with allowing space for expression and evolving musical ideas. The set of variations, which forms the middle movement, is particularly inventive, and the influence of folk music is again never far away. The Schubert Ensemble is joined by Romanian violinist Remus Azoitei for the solo part in the youthful Aria and Scherzino that closes the disc. Here again one can hear the combined influences of Vienna and Paris, with luscious melodies and gorgeously intense harmonies. The Schubert Ensemble has clearly fallen in love with this music, and on the basis of these two discs, so have I.
Enescu, G. 2013. Piano Trio, Piano Quintet, Aria and Scherzino. Remus Azotei, Schubert Ensemble. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10790.
(These reviews first appeared in GScene, January 2014)