The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Lionel Handy (cello) Nigel Clayton (piano)
Composer: Messiaen, Martinu Carter, Cutler

With this, his first solo disc, British cellist Lionel Handy marks both last year’s Messiaen and Carter centenaries and his own miraculous return to playing after serious injury.

Messiaen’s Theme and Variations of 1932, transcribed from the violin and piano original, receives a less engaging performance than the later ‘Louange’ from Messiaen’s wartime Quatuor pour le fin du temps, which reaches expressive heights in the central section in this performance with the cello’s fast, intense vibrato.

Handy, a teacher at London’s Royal Academy of Music and the Birmingham Conservatoire, has a clear affinity with Carter’s 1948 Sonata. The duo’s controlled vigour comes into its own in the more light-hearted second movement with its rapid pizzicato, after a first movement in which the two instruments are consistently opposed. The striking and taut cello double-stops in the more melodic Lento are followed by a finale full of muscular contrapuntal writing, while in Martinu’s sonata the Allegro con brio finale, forceful and well controlled, comes across as a joyous celebration of new-found strength.

Joe Cutler’s Music for Parakeets is powerfully and idiomatically written for the two instruments, but the disc is marred by its unforgiving recording in which both piano and cello tone can sound somewhat harsh.