Lionel Handy (cello)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Recorded 28 & 29 August 2014 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
Reviewed by: Peter Joelson
Reviewed: November 2015
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.351
Duration: 60 minutes
Plymouth-born Stanley Bate (1911-1959) was a highly talented youngster, an excellent pianist, and he had already composed a couple of operas by his twentieth year. He was a pupil first of Vaughan Williams, Gordon Jacob and Arthur Benjamin in London, and then of Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger in Europe. Bate was married to the Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks, and the two had a somewhat nomadic career, working in London, Australia and, with especial success as far as he was concerned, in the United States.
Bate’s Cello Concerto is from 1953 (by which time he and Glanville-Hicks had divorced) and Bate was trying to resurrect his career in Britain, which was difficult. His music was considered conservative and did not fit with the prevailing mood at, for example, the BBC. The Cello Concerto was first performed in the US by the Eastman-Rochester Symphony in 1954. Bate’s music is inventive and well crafted, but does not always possess that fierce spark of originality.
The three-movement Concerto does make for rewarding listening though, despite not reaching the heights of his best works, such as the Third Symphony. The Concerto’s first movement alternates between dark colours and a perky motif, the second is a quite beautiful song for the cello with some fiercely demanding writing in the middle section, during which Lionel Handy demonstrates his excellent technique. An optimistic Finale concludes this easily approachable music.
Arnold Bax’s Cello Concerto, 1934, followed a request from Gaspar Cassadó (1897-1966) who gave the first performance. Beatrice Harrison played the Concerto a good deal. It is now one of Bax’s unjustly neglected works.
The first movement is substantial, alternating between the dark and mournful and the upbeat and lively. Bax’s orchestra is smaller than his usual, though the effects he produces are as varied, inventive and magical as those for larger forces. The RSNO’s strings and woodwinds turn in beautifully played and sympathetic conversations with the cello, and Bax’s writing for the harp shines through. The slow movement contains some of Bax’s deeply-felt writing and delightful orchestration. The energetic and powerful Finale produces further contrasts.
The balance between cello and orchestra in both works is well gauged. Handy is not too spot-lit, and orchestral details are clear. There is enough of the acoustic to give warmth to the sound and allow the music to breathe, and the final result a model of clarity. On Chandos, Raphael Wallfisch, Bryden Thomson conducting, are perhaps a mite more romantic and less reserved, and their recording is very well-upholstered. For Lyrita, Paul Conway has written an exemplary essay.
This is a valuable addition to Lyrita’s list, giving us a fine version of the Bax, and the first recording of Bate’s diverting and entertaining Concerto.