R Clarke, F Swain, P Harrison And J Gould

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COMPOSERS: F Swain,P Harrison And J Gould,R Clarke
LABELS: ASV
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: A Portrait of the Viola
WORKS: Works
PERFORMER: Helen Callus (viola); Robert McDonald (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1130
‘Poet, take up your lute; the wine of youth this night is fermenting in the veins of God’ – lines from Alfred de Musset’s poem May Night, which appeared on the title page of Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata. Frankly, it would be difficult to find any more fitting sobriquet for this exultantly atmospheric survey of viola works by female composers (the first of a projected series, a recent internet feature suggests) from Helen Callus and Robert McDonald.

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Clarke’s fine Sonata has experienced something of a renaissance in the past decade. Passed over by the great British viola-player Lionel Tertis in his book Cinderella No More, and misleadingly dubbed ‘atonal’ in Cobbett’s 1929 Cyclopedia, six commercial recordings have appeared since 1990 alone. Helen Callus now gives a startlingly vivid and compelling account, superior even to Paul Coletti’s formerly defining 1994 Hyperion version with Leslie Howard.

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The other substantial work here, Pamela Harrison’s Viola Sonata of 1946, enters the catalogue for the first time. Ably constructed, with a wealth of clean-cut thematic material, Harrison’s lively idiom is often suggestive of Gordon Jacob or Vaughan Williams. Callus gives an energetic and impassioned reading, with the dashing scherzo proving the mettle of her partnership with McDonald. The remaining works, by Clarke, Freda Swain and Janetta Gould, are admirably played, too. Michael Jameson