British Cello Works for Cello & Piano, Vol. 2

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COMPOSERS: Bax,Bowen,Ireland
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: British Cello Works for Cello & Piano, Vol. 2
WORKS: Sonatas by Bowen, Bax and Ireland
PERFORMER: Paul Watkins, Huw Watkins
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10792

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If I were the sheep staring out so placidly on this CD’s cover, I’d be soon off scurrying to safety after the opening piano chords of York Bowen’s Cello Sonata. Clamorous, bell-like, they make an attention-grabbing start to this wholly welcome second volume in Chandos’s delectable series. None of the selections, each premiered by the distinguished cellist Beatrice Harrison, takes us far from the rhapsodic norm expected of British chamber music in the early 1920s. But none wilt or dribble, either: the Bowen, in particular, is such a grandiloquently vigorous piece. Huw Watkins tackles the assertive piano part with his customary force, while brother Paul is the perfect counterweight, burning with steady lyricism through the cello’s long singing lines.

There is nothing timid about their music-making in the more compact Ireland Sonata (by turns restless, easeful, and rollicking), or the fiery Bax, where the recording’s depth and breadth bring special rewards in the volatile first movement and the rapturous lento. Just occasionally, however, it’s possible to wish for more unbuttoned, less mellifluous feelings from the cello. Even so, bathed in Chandos splendour, the Watkins brothers remain by far the best recorded guides to this powerful and enjoyable repertoire.

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Geoff Brown