Monday 7 November 2016

Superb performances from Martin Outram and Julian Rolton of works for viola and piano on a new release from Nimbus, beautifully captured in a fine recording

In my recent review of a new release from Naxos of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s (1852-1924) impressive Stabat Mater I noted that, whilst professor at the Royal College of Music in London, his pupils included such illustrious names as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, John Ireland, Arthur Bliss and Herbert Howells. The list of his pupils is, of course, much longer, Stanford having taught more composers of a later generation than any other person.

A new disc from Nimbus entitled The Stanford Legacy draws on this aspect of Stanford with violist Martin Outram  and pianist Julian Rolton playing works by Stanford and two of his pupils, John Ireland  and Rebecca Clarke

NI 6334

Of the works performed here only Rebecca Clarke’s sonata was actually written for viola and piano. Stanford’s own Sonata in F major for Clarinet and Piano Op.129 (1911) was arranged for Viola and Piano by Henry Waldo Warner (1874-1945) a member of the London String Quartet, in 1919 with the composer’s approval.

Martin Outram brings a fine warm melody over a quite lovely fluid piano accompaniment from Julian Rolton in the Allegro moderato, developing through some lovely passages with many varied ideas. The viola in many ways adds a greater emotional edge, these two players weaving some tremendous passages, which are full of passion and  reveal Stanford’s fine melody in all its beauty.

The second movement, Caoine: Adagio (quasi Fantasia) rises with passion before gently moving forward with lovely viola phrases over a more florid piano line. The music rises again with the opening passion before eventually finding a gentle flowing melody for both soloists. This duo weaves some lovely moments of exquisite beauty before bringing a moment of increased passion before the lovely coda.

The Allegretto grazioso brings a fine viola melody over a skittish piano line before the staccato piano phrases are briefly given to the viola. Both players soon move quickly forward bringing a lightness of touch to many parts of this music as well as some terrific more intense passages before a settled coda.

Born in Harrow, Middlesex, England Rebecca Clarke (1887-1979) was a viola player and as a composer wrote much chamber, choral and vocal music. She later settled in New York City, marrying composer and pianist James Friskin in 1944. Her Sonata for Viola and Piano (1919) is also in three movements with the theme of the opening Impetuoso announced vibrantly before it is weaved through some stormy, billowing passages, Outram and Roltan delivering some terrific playing. Soon there is a slow, ruminative passage out of which the melody gently moves forward. Both players reveal some lovely details, exquisite little phrases, drawing some wonderfully hushed textures before picking up in tempo to sway passionately forward with a lovely rubato from the duo.

There are some lovely vibrant, fast phrases for these players in the fleeting phrases of the Vivace. Outram finds some terrific textures and sonorities from his instrument over a wonderfully fluent piano accompaniment. Stronger, vibrant phrases push the music forward before a slower, gentler moment that precedes the fast delicate phrases of the coda.

Julian Rolton slowly picks out a theme for the Adagio before the viola of Martin Outram joins to lead with a longer drawn melodic line over a lovely broad accompaniment. The music slowly increases in passion. There is an exquisite calm, hushed moment with this duo finding a lovely rise and fall, beautifully controlled, nuanced phrasing before rising again through billowing passages with Outram delivering some edgier viola phrases. Later there is gentle, thoughtful passage for piano to which the viola joins with hushed phrases before running through a fiercely passionate section. Towards the end there is a wistful passage showing how Rebecca Clarke knew so well her instrument’s ability to deliver such feeling.  

This is a rather seductive performance of this terrific work.

Martin Outram and Julian Rolton conclude with Outram’s own arrangement for Viola and Piano of John Ireland’s Sonata No.1 in D minor for Violin and Piano. Written in 1908/09 this sonata won the Cobbett competition out of 134 entrants.

There is a real sense of purpose and forward movement as the Allegro leggiadro opens, Rolton bringing some wonderfully fluent moments around Outram’s viola, finding all the little rhythmic changes and tempo surges. The music rises through some passionate, wonderfully phrased bars with superb control of dynamics, finding a constant restlessness.

In the Romance: In tempo sostenuto quasi adagio this duo reveals a quite beautiful movement, introduced by the piano. The viola joins to take the lovely melody forward, finding moments of sudden drama. Midway there is a particularly lovely passage where the viola takes the theme over rippling piano phrases before building some terrific string textures as the music rises. Often these players find an exquisite feeling of melancholy.

The energetic, fast moving Rondo: Allegro sciolto assai brings some terrific phrasing and ensemble from these two. Soon there is a passage of less energetic flow but they soon find energy, hurtling off again. There are moments where the piano brings a lovely rippling calm over which Outram takes the theme before moving quickly forward to a vibrant coda.

There is no doubt that this arrangement of Ireland’s sonata works impressively well. 
These are superb performances, beautifully captured in a fine recording. There are excellent notes from Martin Outram.

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