This superb Chandos release whets my appetite to investigate the previous issues in this adventurous series that is glued together by Paul and Huw Watkins. Maybe music for cello and piano by assorted British composers seems unappetising; well let me tell you that these particular musical puddings prove very, very tasty.
Kenneth Leighton’s Partita (1959) is intensely expressive, burdened almost, the opening movement eloquent and deep if subsiding into softer reveries, and then the following Scherzo is an energetic tour de force. The ‘Theme and Variations’ Finale (double the length of the first two movements combined) is of course diverse in taking the opening soulful tune for a ride, whether it be a march, a waltz, a chorale, or several speeded-up variants that exude nervous energy, and one is entitled ‘Appassionata’, which you might think Ludwig van Beethoven had copyrighted. This engaging work only serves to further mourn the taken-too-soon Leighton (1929-88).
Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-1983) lived longer and got into three figures opus-number-wise. Her Constants (1976) is an elusive work, terse if fragile at times in the first movement, whereas head-on emotions rock the boat in ‘Lament’, without losing the suggestion of the music’s rigorous construction, and the final ‘Canticle’ is withdrawn and lonely. By contrast, Cello Sonata No.2 (1977) from Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008), for all its initial nocturnal wanderings, has a passion that takes the listener into the music’s soul, and such heightened emotions also travel into the haunting Adagio and the scurrying and edgy Finale.
Which leaves the Cello Sonata (1991) by Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012): sad to reflect that all four of these vibrant composers are now deceased. Bennett’s piece opens with a glorious melody before the writing becomes more agitated, and the three movements that follow are no less engaging in their imaginative and wide-ranging ideas and skilled composition; a compelling work indeed.
Oh I do wish I had started to investigate this series when it was new, although disconcertingly the booklet suggests that only Volume 3 (Moeran, Rubbra and Rawsthorne) remains available – which can’t be the case, surely – for the excellence of performance, presentation and recording on this current release suggests, sitting in my particular boat, that a fishing net thrown over the first three issues would be a very desirable thing to achieve. Maybe the editor will let me loose on them (hint!).