Saturday 31 August 2013

Finely Poetic - Philip Handy's 'The Romantic Cello II'

Philip Handy, cello
This is the second cellist Philip Handy's Romantic Cello discs on VIF Records, exploring the 20th century romantic repertoire for the cello. (see my review of the first volume) Accompanied by pianist Robert Markham, Handy performs Sergei Rachmaninov's Sonata for Cello and Piano, the Serenade for Solo Cello by the young British composer Benjamin Woodgates, Frederick Delius's Serenade and John Ireland's Sonata for Cello and Piano.

Rachmaninov's Sonata for Cello and Piano was written in 1901, premiered a few months after his Second Piano Concerto; the work was the composer's last piece of chamber music. Handy and Markham make the Lento introduction slow and evocative, each instrument answering the other in beautifully shaped phrases. With the Allegro Moderato the pair contributes a highly poetic performance, beautifully flowing rather than intense. Handy's cello sings, with a slim, elegant tone.

This is a nicely poetic account, with a fine flow to it. The two give a rather delicate performance with fine textures, albeit with dramatic interventions. It is quietly intense and thoughtful rather than big and bravura. It is remarkably fleet performance, Handy and Markham take 9'53 whereas Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk take 12'56 on their recent recording (see my review). Though finely played, I did occasionally wish for something a bit richer and darker.

They give a darkly vibrant and lively account of the Allegro scherando, giving it a rather skittering texture but with an underlying mood. There is an incessant pull to the movement, underpinned by rhythmic intensity. The middle section has a nicely singing cello over a heavy textured piano, though there is still quite a light feel to it.

The Andante has a rhapsodic feel to it, combining singing tone with flexible flow. There is a quiet intensity to the performance, rather inward with some fine grained playing. Then finally the Allegro Moderato is more strenuous, fast and furious, but still light fingered. The result is rather fleet scherzo than bravura finale. Handy and Markham give a finely poetic, but fleet and fine grained performance. Technically this is a fine account, though I could have wished for a little more Slavic temperament.

Next comes two shorter pieces.  Written for unaccompanied cello, Benjamin Woodgates' Serenade is inspired by Robert Burns lyric, Mary Morison. It is a quiet, thoughtful piece with plenty of space. Even when it gets more strenuous, there is still a steady spaciousness to the work. Delius's Serenade from Hassan is a delicate textured, flowing and elegant little piece, based on a rather a continuous rocking motion.

John Ireland's Sonata for Cello and Piano was written in 1923, premiered by the cellist Beatrice Harrison. Like the Bridge sonata on Handy's first disc (also written for Beatrice Harrison), the Ireland sonata reflects a strand of English composition which was influenced by continental composers. The opening Moderato is a dramatic and intense piece, almost anguished at times, though there are moments of singing. It is a highly restless piece, given a powerful performance, with Handy playing with a fine grained tone giving focus to the intensity.

The Poco Largamente has a highly rhapsodic cello part supported by the piano. It is thoughtful and contemplative, rather than the big gesture. It does wander a bit, with quite a chromatic harmonic language. It too has its powerfully anguished moments, but poetically done.

The final Con Moto receives the most amazing bravura opening, which continues through the whole of the unsettled movement, all restlessness and striving.

This is a highly impressive disc and makes a fine companion to Handy and Markham's first disc. There will be performances which you might prefer for your library shelves, but it represents an impressive debut from a young cellist.

The Romantic Cello II
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Sonata for Cello and Piano [32.00]
Benjamin Woodgates (born 1986) - Serenade for Solo Cello [3.48]  
Frederick Delius (1862 - 1934) - Serenade from Hassan [4.19]  
John Ireland (1879 - 1962) - Sonata for Cello and Piano[20.27]
Philip Handy (cello)
Robert Markham (piano)
Recorded at Beaulieu Abbey, 17-18 April 2012
At the moment the disc is only available directly from Philip Handy.

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