The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Philip Dukes (viola) Daniel Hope (violin) Sophia Rahman (piano) Robert Plane (clarinet)
Composer: Clarke

Paul Cortese recently included Rebecca Clarke’s Lullaby and Grotesque (enchanting miniatures, beautifully written) on a Crystal Records recital, although this extensive Naxos collection gives us a better opportunity to assess her overall achievement. Clarke was, of course, a fine violist herself yet, as Liane Curtis points out in her expert annotations, only the popular Sonata, the Passacaglia (on an old English tune) and Chinese Puzzle (a delightful piece of miniature chinoiserie) were actually published during her lifetime. Other pieces featured in this programme include two lullabies (one an elegiac pastoral, the other ‘on an Ancient Irish Tune’, less soothing in tone), a haunting ten-minute Dumka, in which Philip Dukes is joined by distinguished violinist Daniel Hope, and the Prelude, Allegro and Pastorale (the focus of a 1999 article in The Strad) for viola and clarinet, with Robert Plane on fine form.

This is music that gives up its secrets to only the most gifted. Any attempts to try to align Clarke’s work with the Romantic tradition from which it sprang is doomed to overload its refined, neo-Classical textures. Play it too cool, however, and one runs the risk of crusting over its molten core of bittersweet nostalgia. All of which makes these particular performances doubly remarkable for keeping such a sure hand on the emotional tiller of each work. Both technically and musically, these are exceptional performances, with Philip Dukes producing the most alluring sound throughout the register, counterpointed by Sophia Rahman’s beguiling pianism and Michael Ponder’s exemplary engineering. Another Naxos winner.