Clarke: Songs; works for violin and piano

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WORKS: Songs; works for violin and piano
PERFORMER: Patricia Wright (soprano), Kathron Sturrock (piano), Jonathan Rees (violin)
‘Even if it had been the work of a man it would be called a virile effort.’ That was the sort of critical comment Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) was up against in her life as a chamber musician and composer in the 1920s. Gamut Classics are to be praised for bringing 25 of her still-neglected songs and three of her violin and piano pieces to our notice, even if they are to be reprimanded for their constant misspelling of AE Housman and hilarious misattribution to him of three English and three Irish folksongs (including ‘The Tailor and the Mouse’…).


Hi diddly um cum … Clarke at least had good fun with her violin accompaniment to ‘The Tailor’ and the other folksongs, each one of which is a healthy rival to Britten’s own forays into the territory.

Clarke’s own settings of English poetry show little of the originality of a Britten or a Tippett. Hers, generally speaking, is the more comfortable, syllabic-based style of a Quilter or a Warlock. Within this musical language, her grasp of intonation and inflection is perceptive and her matching of both to harmonic direction and pitch register assured and powerful.

She takes on Blake and Yeats fearlessly: her ‘Tiger’ burning bright with a latent Expressionism which, alas, she never really developed. Her single response to the astringently feminist writer and poet Anne Wickham, her contemporary, is disappointingly bland. But a prose extract from Masefield’s ‘A main sail haul’ is revelatory in its invention.


Each song is sung with clarity and spirit by New Zealander Patricia Wright, and accompanied enthusiastically by Kathron Sturrock and Jonathan Rees.Hilary Finch