Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International
January 2019

Natalie Clein proves a dramatic, wholehearted interpreter of the cello version of Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata. Recently Raphael Wallfisch and John York recorded it for Lyrita and not only do Clein and Christian Ihle Hadland drive through it two and a half minutes faster, they have been recorded in a much more immediate, forward acoustic, which only intensifies the vibrancy and intensity of their reading. These are two very different ways of approaching a work that in recent years has become something of a viola repertory piece; the soft-grained but subtly distanced Wallfisch-York, or the almost overwrought Clein-Hadland. Yet if the younger pair maintained that dangerously exciting adrenalin their performance would buckle; they don’t. Their reflective, inwardly musing passages are just as powerfully phrased and just as compelling. Legato is ardently explored, the folkloric pizzicati in the central fast movement ricocheting with great youthful panache, and in the bipartite finale—Adagio then Allegro—she vests that opening section with a lovely range of colours before unleashing renewed passion. There’s real kinship at work here, performers and work at one; the sonata positively sizzles in this performance. Note too that Clein and William Foster prepared the cello part.

The companion sonata is Frank Bridge’s, composed between 1913 and 1917. Here the Clein-Hadland outrun by precisely the same amount—two and a half minutes—another older Hyperion pairing, the Nash Ensemble’s Paul Watkins and Ian Brown. Watkins, himself no slouch in the declamation stakes, with a raft of splendid Chandos British cello sonatas to his name, sounds positively becalmed next to the molten Clein. Some may not always find her intensely vibrated playing, here and also, perhaps, in the Clarke to their liking. It has to be admitted that sometimes it sounds too booming and intense. And, a stern critic might note that Watkins is more persuasive in the music’s nostalgia. Yet, for all that, Clein runs the gamut of emotions and there is a real personality at work. This applies to what some might consider Bridge’s morceaux but Clein’s not having it at all. The Serenade—you can here, and elsewhere, hear her anticipatory sniffs—is played with more ardour than is usually encountered in this early work. And she can hardly be accused of underplaying the Scherzo of c.1902 which is dispatched with a will o’ the wisp virtuosity that sizzles with flair and then has the wit to treat the B section with the coyly salon charm it requires.

Vaughan William’s Six Studies in English Folk Song close the disc, their compact charms conveyed with apposite refinement. I’d single out her phrasing in Spurn Point—absolutely lovely—and the piece that seems to convey something of Clein’s own sense of fearless commitment, As I walked over London Bridge.

The earlier Bridge Hyperion disc sported Eric Ravilious cover art. The label’s design team clearly has its own sense of wit as they’ve used another Ravilious for this one. The documentation is well up to Hyperion’s high standards and I can say without any hesitation that if you’re looking for high-octane performances of this repertoire, then make the Clein-Hadland duo your first port of call.