The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: First-rate performances do little to pin down a little-known composer’s style
Musicians: Kerenza Peacock (violin) Mark Smith (horn) Robert Stevenson (piano)
Composer: Holbrooke

Joseph Holbrooke (1878–1958) is best remembered, if at all, for his Wagner-aping cycle of Celtic music dramas, but he was prolific in all fields of music. These chamber works reveal all too obviously what pianist Robert Stevenson admits in his booklet note as the composer’s lack of a distinctive compositional voice.

The Trio for horn, violin and piano has obvious Brahmsian precedent, but little of the German composer’s stylistic distinction, and there’s nothing notably ‘English’ about the music of the violin works. The best comes in the concerto, a work that exists in versions with piano and with orchestra, and also in a simplified alternative as a sonata. Kerenza Peacock, violinist with the Pavão Quartet, makes a good case for the piano-accompanied original, and demonstrates real panache and determinedness in the plethora of double-stopped passages as well as a nimbleness that copes well with the jumping lines that give the work its ‘Grasshopper’ nickname.

Elsewhere, the First Violin Sonata rather struggles to rise above the level of the salon, though Peacock tends its melodies lovingly. The Horn Trio, too, offers her plenty of moments in the limelight, but the material is stronger and inspires slick ensemble work with the horn player Mark Smith and the agile Stevenson. The sound feels a bit dry, but there’s a gain in clarity.

Matthew Rye