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Track(s) taken from CDH55085

Viola Sonata


Paul Coletti (viola), Leslie Howard (piano)
Recording details: September 1993
St Peter's Church, Petersham, United Kingdom
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: April 1994
Total duration: 21 minutes 16 seconds


'this anthology of 20th-century music for viola and piano was a deserved inclusion in the BBC Music Magazine's 'Top 1000' CD guide. The Scottish-born Paul Coletti is a master of his instrument, and deploys an impressive range of colours. Well partnered by the versatile Leslie Howard, he gives full Romantic expression to Rebecca Clarke's fine 1919 Sonata and Bax's dramtic Legend. And he is a convincing advocate for posthumously published rarities by Britten and Vaughan Williams, Frank Bridge's beautifully written diptych, two delightful Grainger miniatures, and two beautiful lullabies by Clarke which alone are worth Helios's modest price' (BBC Music Magazine)

‘Coletti’s cello-like tone and Leslie Howard’s sensitive accompaniment highlight the big romantic gestures of the Clarke sonata and also project the fervent nature of works such as Bax’s Legend and Frank Bridge’s irresistible Allegro appassionato’ (Classic FM Magazine)
Easily Clarke’s most impressive and well-known work is the Sonata for Viola and Piano written in 1918/19. This was entered for the Coolidge Competition that year, again under the pseudonym ‘Anthony Trent’. The prize was generous for the time at $1,000, and 73 entries were registered. The six members of the jury came to a point where they were undecided between two works. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (the founder and benefactor of the competition) gave her casting vote to Ernest Bloch’s Suite for Viola. However, the jury was so impressed by ‘Anthony Trent’s’ work that they demanded to know the identity of the composer. Miss Coolidge said to Rebecca Clarke afterwards: ‘You should have seen their faces when they saw it was by a woman!’

Overnight Clarke became a cause célèbre, both in England and America. Several performances of the work were given and it was published by Chester in 1921. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was so impressed by the Viola Sonata that she commissioned a Rhapsody for cello and piano from Clarke which was performed in 1923 at the Berkshire (Massachusetts) Festival by May Mukle and Myra Hess.

The Viola Sonata is in three movements and is headed by a quotation from Alfred de Musset’s poem La Nuit de Mai:

Poète, prends ton luth; le vin de la jeunesse
Fermente cette nuit dans les veines de Dieu.

The first and third movements are big-boned pieces with a clear thematic link between them, and the second is a brilliant but delicate scherzo in compound time. The language has that ambiguous quality mentioned earlier, where Debussy and Ravel (particularly of the Piano Trio) mix with the Englishness represented by modality and the flexibility of melody inspired by folksong. It is very much of its period, and the fantasy-like character of the outer movements places it firmly in the style of music favoured by English composers of the time, especially as encouraged by the Cobbett Competitions. (These stipulated the composition of a single-movement piece with a variety of moods suggestive of larger forms in the spirit of the ‘fantasy’ which was common in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.)

In 1939 Rebecca Clarke visited America, and was there when war was declared. She was denied a return visa and thus forced to stay in the USA. She worked as a nanny to a family in Connecticut for a while, but visiting New York in 1944 she met James Friskin with whom she had been a student at the Royal College of Music and who was now teaching at the Juilliard School. They were both unmarried and in their late fifties and decided to marry, which put the seal on Clarke’s decision as to whether or not to return to England. She remained in New York until her death in 1979.

from notes by Paul Spicer © 1994

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