The Harrison Sisters An English Musical Heritage
A glance at the titles above will show that Claremont and Symposium have used very much the same material in their centenary tributes to Beatrice Harrison and her younger sisters, which is unfortunate. Only Beatrice made a significant number of recordings, but most were of short encore pieces, and so duplication of the more substantial items was perhaps inevitable. The oldest sister's most important contribution to the gramophone was undoubtedly her 1928 performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto, with Elgar conducting. (This will be reissued shortly as part of EMI's Elgar Edition, Vol. 3.) Felix Salmond gave the first performance, although Beatrice soon became the composer's choice as soloist whenever he conducted the work. She also inspired Delius's Cello Concerto and his Cello Sonata.
Her performance of the Brahms Sonata No. 1 is old-fashioned in style and technique, but has an affecting nobility and directness of expression. Her interpretation of the Delius has similar qualities and clearly it is uniquely authoritative. Symposium have shown enterprise in publishing the acoustically recorded Bach excerpts for the first time, and these are played in a very concentrated, highly communicative fashion. Claremont, on the other hand, have dug out a very rare Victor recording of a somewhat tasteless Wagner arrangement, made by Beatrice on one of her First World War visits to America. They have also included the famous, some would say infamous, recording of the Dvorak piece with nightingale accompaniment, made in the Harrisons' garden. In addition there are two privately recorded items accompanied by King George V's sister. Truth to tell, the royal playing is almost comically inept and Princess Victoria is brought back from a wrong turning in
Beatrice's performances are very rewarding, but I rather feel that May was an even more gifted artist. She was a pupil of Leopold Auer, and enjoyed a successful career at home and abroad in her younger days. Her one commercial recording, of the Delius Violin Sonata No. 1, shows remarkable flair and poetry, and her free, rhapsodic style, with generous but totally convincing portamento is very seductive. Bax's accompaniment is similarly romantic and generously phrased. (More of May's playing can be heard in recently unearthed private recordings of Delius, Bax and Moeran on Symposium (CD) 1075, 12/90.)
There was a fourth sister Monica, whose promise as a singer was unfulfilled owing to poor health. The youngest of all was Margaret, happily still alive, who tended to live in the shadow of Beatrice and May. She was, however, a fine musician in her own right, as can be heard in her spirited piano accompaniments, and on her one record as a solo violinist. The Smetana piece, in particular is brilliantly and vivaciously brought to life.
Neither disc contains the very best in terms of transfers. Those made by Symposium tend to be a bit rough and ready, with a good deal of surface noise. Claremont's, on the other hand, are more refined but present a paler sound-image. So far as content is concerned Symposium have chosen musically more significant shorter items and I suggest that their disc is slightly the better proposition. Claremont's issue is cheaper, however.'