R Clarke: Viola Sonata; Dumka; Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale; Chinese Puzzle etc

COMPOSERS: R Clarke
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: R Clarke
WORKS: Viola Sonata; Dumka; Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale; Chinese Puzzle etc
PERFORMER: Robert Plane (clarinet), Daniel Hope (violin), Philip Dukes (viola),, Sophia Rahman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557934
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) played the viola professionally for many years, and much of her extensive but sporadic compositional output includes the instrument. Philip Dukes and Sophia Rahman play the bold, impressive 1919 Sonata with confidence and rich sound, but perhaps too great a tendency to drift into dreamily impressionist mode. Their approach is better suited to some of the shorter compositions here, including a previously unrecorded, very Debussyan Untitled Piece.

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The scope of the disc is broadened by persuasive accounts of two 1941 works with different scorings. The Dumka for violin, viola and piano has an appropriately Slavic feeling in its euphonious slow sections, but the quick episodes hint at folkloric Bartók as well as English jigs and hornpipes. The Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale for clarinet and viola includes some spiky, high-spirited counterpoint, though it ends with a sense of loneliness that seems to be a recurring characteristic of Clarke’s music.

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Competition in the Sonata (and some of the shorter pieces) comes from mixed recitals of English music by two British violists now in the USA. Helen Callus, with Robert McDonald on ASV, chooses similar speeds to those of Dukes and Rahman, though with generally firmer and clearer results. Paul Coletti, with Leslie Howard, is altogether faster and more urgent, better matching the work’s initial tempo marking of ‘Impetuoso’ and emphasising its coherence and forward movement. But Dukes and his colleagues certainly present an attractive, rounded (and clearly recorded) portrait of a composer whose music is well worth getting to know. Anthony Burton