BOWEN; BAX; IRELAND Works for Cello and Piano
For many readers, this second disc of British music for cello and piano will be even more attractive than the highly praised first (2/13).
Bax’s masterly Sonata dates from 1923. Like the other two sonatas on this CD, it was premiered by Beatrice Harrison. The highlight is the beautiful and inspired central Lento, which opens delicately, like snowflakes, in the piano’s upper range, with an elegiac theme from the cello which gradually becomes ruminative; the piano, too, has a haunting soliloquy. The folksy finale opens with a vibrant ‘stamping dance’; then comes a yearning secondary theme before the dance returns. But the movement continues with a touchingly reminiscent epilogue, then gains momentum for a bold conclusion.
York Bowen’s was the first of these three sonatas to be composed – in 1921 – and it is appropriately placed first on the CD. It opens with a figure rather like bells, which constantly reappears. The main theme is vigorous and gripping but the secondary melody, although touchingly gentle, still tends to dominate the movement. Bowen was called ‘the English Rachmaninov’ in his time but his melodic style is essentially his own, and there is more than a hint of Debussy in the piano chording. The exciting finale (Allegro con fuoco) romps away with the bell theme, with virtuoso writing for the piano. But it is again interrupted by a tranquillo interlude, which then expands into a powerful, romantic apotheosis.
John Ireland’s Sonata is an exact contemporary of Bax’s work. The first movement is concentrated and succinct, and soon introduces the almost plain but still affecting secondary idea, and a tranquillo episode forms a bridge to the movement’s lovely closing section and animated coda. The heart of the sonata is the Poco largamente, which has a lovely, song-like melody intimately shared by both instruments. The finale dances off in shared virtuosity and makes a dashing conclusion but ends the work rather suddenly. Paul Watkins and Huw Watkins have all this music in their very being and play here, as always, with great spontaneity. The Chandos recording is entirely truthful.