A lockdown project proves fruitful for female composers

Rosalind Ventris: Sola

The Strad Issue: September 2023

Description: A lockdown project proves fruitful for female composers

Musicians: Rosalind Ventris (viola)

Works: Music by Bacewicz, Beamish, Feery, Fuchs, Holst, Lutyens, Maconchy and Musgrave 

Catalogue number: DELPHIAN DCD34292

As many musicians did during the Covid pandemic, violist Rosalind Ventris set about exploring the byways of her instrument’s unaccompanied repertoire. The present recital features some of her findings that – in Ventris’s words – ‘just happen to be by women composers’. Grażyna Bacewicz’s Polish Caprice – transcribed from the violin original – makes for a most effective opening flourish, showcasing the luscious sound of Ventris’s viola, as well as her crisp spiccato and sonorous chordal playing. Lillian Fuchs’s Sonata Pastorale, a potentially rambling piece, is convincingly held together, its rhythmic backbone always perceivable behind some sensitive rubato. Amanda Feery’s Boreal and Elisabeth Lutyens’s Echo of the Wind are fascinating studies in sonority, gratefully seized by Ventris, who takes their idiosyncratic writing and sophisticated use of harmonics in her stride.

Like Fuchs, Sally Beamish is a professionally trained violist, which shows in Penillion, chosen in 2000 as the set piece at the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition: the influence of folk fiddling is much to the fore, with bare fifths, pedal notes and quick grace notes. Elizabeth Maconchy’s almost Bartókian Five Sketches are followed by Imogen Holst’s Suite, in which neo-Baroque gestures coexist with modernist traits such as whole-tone scales and a distorted dance in 5/8. The solemn Bachian chords of Thea Musgrave’s In the Still of the Night lead to a transfigured ending on a single harmonic. A similarly comforting ending self-explanatorily concludes her Light at the End of the Tunnel – written in August 2020 at the height of the pandemic – and this lovingly recorded and presented, unreservedly recommendable recital.