Smyth, Delius, Gibbs, Britten
Lionel Handy, cello, Jennifer Hughes, piano
Also Available: British Cello Works, Volume 1
Lionel Handy, cello and Jennifer Hughes, piano
Lyrita Records SRCD.383; UPC: 5020926038326
'A key figure in the British musical renaissance, Dame ETHEL SMYTH (1858-1944) was critically acclaimed for her music and for her writing during her lifetime. Smyth’s Sonata in A minor for cello and piano, Op.5 was written in 1887 and published the following year by C. F. Peters in Leipzig. The score is dedicated to the German cellist Julius Klengel, whom she met through her friendship with the Röntgen family.
In her A minor Sonata, Op. 5, as in her earlier Sonata in C minor for cello and piano (1880), Ethel Smyth favours expressivity over virtuosity, emphasising the cello’s warm and lyrical tone. The piano enjoys a key role in all three movements and is often invited to present the chief subject matter rather than merely playing a supporting role accompanying the cello line. Thus, the piece constitutes a true ‘sonata for cello and piano’. Fluent and tightly constructed,the score reveals a gift for melody, pacing and characterisation which the composer would use to good advantage in her stage works.
One of Delius’s most satisfying chamber works, the Cello Sonata is distinguished by the expressive power of its material. Both instruments enter at the same time, the cello unfolding a songlike, long-limbed line, while the piano presents the main idea. A second key theme, introduced by the cello over the piano’s rippling, arpeggiated chords, is more forthright and sharply defined.
In the late 1940s and the 1950s, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs wrote a series of instrumental works, two of them written for, and dedicated to, the cellist Eileen Croxford. They consist of Three Pieces, Op. 121 and the Cello Sonata in E, Op. 132. The Sonata is dated 12 January 1951 and was published by Oxford University Press the following year. The opening Allegro moderato is a substantial movement in sonata form. Over a syncopated, chordal piano accompaniment, the cello unfurls a sweeping, unsettled melody which contains some unexpected tonal shifts and covers a wide dynamic range.
Britten’s Cello Sonata is a challenging, bravura piece that benefits immeasurably from the natural affinity between composer and player which would inspire Britten to produce four more major works for Rostropovich over the next decade. Rostropovich wrote of the work, ‘This is a sonata full of surprises, innovations for any cellist, gifts for the musician flowing freely from the horn of plenty. We meet not merely a novelty in finger-work but, what is most important, a new kind of expressive and profound dramatic composition.'
© Paul Conway, 2022
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