Ireland, Delius & Bax: British Cello Sonatas
JOHN IRELAND The Cello Sonata in G minor was written in 1923 and premiered the following year on 4 April by the cellist Beatrice Harrison with pianist Evlyn Howard-Jones at the Aeolian Hall, London. The composer himself performed the Sonata many times as pianist with several cellists including Antoni Sala, who pronounced it ‘the best cello sonata of modern times’, and recorded it with Ireland on the Columbia label in October 1928.
FREDERICK DELIUS His four violin and piano sonatas were written between 1892 and 1930 and so chart comprehensively his creative development. Violin Sonata No.3 forms a part of the remarkable Indian summer of composition made possible by the blind and paralysed composer’s collaboration with Eric Fenby (1906-97). Lionel Handy arranged the Sonata for cello and piano in 2012 and on 23 November of that year he gave the first public performance of his transcription with Nigel Clayton as pianist at a concert held in The Warehouse, London to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Delius’s birth.
ARNOLD BAX is widely regarded as an orchestral composer. However, he also wrote a significant quantity of chamber music. One of his most impressive works for the instrument, the Cello Sonata in E flat was written in 1923 at a time when his popularity and standing among British composers was at its height. Completed on 7 November of that year, the Sonata was premiered on 26 February 1924 at the Wigmore Hall with Harriet Cohen accompanying Beatrice Harrison, to whom the score was originally dedicated.
The cellist Lionel Handy has more than a passing interest in twentieth century British Music. He has performed the concertos of Finzi, Bax, Walton and Delius, and through his work with the London Sinfonietta has rubbed shoulders with such eminent composers as Tippett and Birtwistle. Here, in partnership with pianist Jennifer Hughes, he turns his attention to three British cello sonatas.
"This excellent new CD from Lyrita opens with John Ireland’s cello sonata; it is one of my favourite contributions to the genre. The mood of the music is typically reflective and the resulting work “is pervaded with the brooding mystery of the deep past”. Listeners have identified a strong sense of ‘place’ in this music, most especially the aura of the landscape around Chanctonbury Hill and the West Sussex Downs. Lionel Handy (cello), and Jennifer Hughes (piano) give a splendid performance here, with an especial magic created in the gorgeous slow movement. The knack of a successful reading of this Sonata is an understanding of the musical self-referencing between movements, and the creation of the timeless ‘pastoral’ in the slow movement. It must break the listeners heart, especially if they have been to Chanctonbury.
Arnold Bax’s Cello Sonata is another of my favourite works in this genre. The opening movement is full of energy and musical adventure. On the other hand, Paul Conway, in the exceptional liner notes, reminds the listener that the “start of the haunted slow movement is a transcription of the opening of Spring Fire, an orchestral evocation of the forest before dawn”. This in turn was inspired by Swinburne’s ‘Atalanta in Corydon’. Bax wrote that this passage suggested ‘the uncertain and pensive hour immediately before daybreak in the woodland.’ Another allusion to Spring Fire in the Cello Sonata is a quotation from the 4th movement, ‘Woodland Love’. This is associated with Swinburne’s line “And time remembered is grief forgotten”.