Duo Runya perform Rebecca Clarke chamber works

COMPOSERS: Rebecca Clarke
LABELS: Aevea
ALBUM TITLE: Rebecca Clarke
WORKS: Viola Sonata; Lullaby; Lullaby on an ancient Irish tune; Untitled piece; Chinese Puzzle; Passacaglia on an old English tune; I’ll bid my heart be still; Morpheus; Dumka
PERFORMER: Duo Runya
CATALOGUE NO: Aevea AE 16008

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Rebecca Clarke’s lavishly idiomatic 1919 Viola Sonata might not have been written were it not for Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge’s Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music. Entered anonymously into its composition competition, the piece vied for first prize with Bloch’s Suite for Viola (which eventually won). Rumours even went round that he was the real composer. An internationally-known viola player herself, Clarke was one of her Sonata’s few exponents in her lifetime, but this marks the 16th recording since the early 1980s. Duo Runya take the rhapsodic, modally-inflected Sonata’s preface to heart, ‘Poet, take your lute, the wine of youth ferments in the veins of God tonight.’ This is a volatile, passionately committed performance, the ebb and flow of energies managed with instinctive fluency. Violist Diana Bonatesta relishes the marvellous range of timbres so expertly written into the score, but her glissandos swoop rather sluggishly, staccato passages don’t always dance, and she and her sister are a little rough with the Vivace’s delicate chinoiserie, which should have a glittering transparency. While this has coherence, it lacks the refinement and nuance of Tabea Zimmerman and Kirill Gerstein’s exceptional recent version (Myrios).

Of the shorter pieces, the lamenting Dumka (1941) and Morpheus (1917-18) have real weight, the latter a darkly brooding essay composed under her alias ‘Anthony Trent’, who, she noted bitterly, received more praise than she did. The eerie half-lights of Lullaby on an ancient Irish tune evokes the era of her teacher Stanford, but Untitled plays with a strange, free-floating, harmonic palette, while the angular Chinese Puzzle recalls Les Six. I’ll bid my heart be still was her sad valediction to composing: we are all the poorer for Clarke’s retreat into silence.

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Helen Wallace