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Lionel Handy interprets British Cello Sonatas

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

British Cello Sonatas
Ireland: Cello Sonata; Delius: Violin Sonata No. 3 (arr. Handy); Bax: Cello Sonata
Lionel Handy (cello), Jennifer Hughes (piano)
Lyrita SRCD.361


The muted colours of Albert Goodwin’s painting on the cover of the CD’s booklet points the way toward the muted hues of the British music within. Even when Ireland and Bax’s cello sonatas of 1923 echo the composers’ fascination with pagan landscapes and rituals, we’re still worlds away from the Russian rumpus unleashed in The Rite of Spring. Yet within this music’s grey limits there is much beauty to enjoy, further garnished by the sturdy if slightly broad-brush performances of Lionel Handy and Rosemary Hughes.

Admittedly, the transcription of Delius’s Third Violin Sonata is not the disc’s best feature. Delius’s lyrical violin flights, at their most airborne in the second movement, do not translate well to the cello’s registers. Who wants to see a silvery bird dressed in a brown overcoat?

In the Ireland, the greatest work here, Handy and Hughes are sometimes emotionally tentative compared to other executants on disc, though their reserve breaks at key points. In the Bax, a capacious bag of a work with plenty of loose stitching, Handy and Hughes ensure that the middle movement’s lyrical ardour makes its mark. Throughout, Lyrita’s crisp recording always helps, even shining a light into the cello’s lowest corners.

One-fell-swoop listening of this CD will not suit everyone: so much musical introspection may cause claustrophobia. But for dedicated British followers? Almost manna from heaven.


Geoff Brown