20th Century Cello Sonatas
On two Somm CDs the excellent cellist Alexander Baillie, with his pianist, John Thwaites, has collected six enjoyable British cello sonatas, all but one written in the first half of the 20th century. Frank Bridge’s Sonata was written between 1913 and 1917, just before his style darkened, influenced by the impact of the First World War. The second of the two long movements brings together very effectively slow movement, scherzo and finale.
The Delius is one of the single-movement works he wrote in the later stages of the war, very characteristic in its free, warm lyricism, while the Ireland, dating from 1923, involves more clearly defined themes, each leading to passionate climaxes. The work is rounded off with a vigorous, sharply rhythmic finale.
Most welcome of all on the disc is the Sonata of Rebecca Clarke, originally written for viola and awarded first prize in the competition instituted by the American philanthropist Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Under a male pseudonym, it was accounted first jointly with Ernest Bloch’s Suite for viola and piano, though sadly for Ms Clarke, Mrs Coolidge gave her casting vote to the Bloch. As Baillie ably demonstrates, the register of the solo instrument makes it equally playable by cello or viola, and this could well be the first recording for cello. It is a magnificent work, powerful and passionate. It makes one sad that Clarke, after this splendid start, emigrated to the United States and concentrated on teaching and performing, subsequently writing very little.
Ivor Keys’s Sonata is a rarity. Keys was primarily an academic, professor at various universities, who here in 1960 adopts a determinedly unfashionable, post-Romantic idiom. It is a superbly crafted work, written for the cellist Maurice Eisenberg; Keys, like Clarke, is not ashamed to write passionate music, ending with a set of variations on a sharply rhythmic theme. It makes a splendid discovery. Last on the disc comes the Rubbra Sonata, with a typically measured first movement followed by a chattering scherzo, leading to a final set of variations and fugue, very different from Keys’s. The Sonata ends with a grand, measured climax in square time. Another fine work.