Thursday 15 February 2024

A Lionel Tertis Celebration: Timothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Baillieu; Harmonia Mundi

A Lionel Tertis Celebration: Timothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Bailieu; Harmonia Mundi

A Lionel Tertis Celebration - York Bowen,  Rebecca Clarke, Vaughan Williams, Lionel Tertis, Frank Bridge, Brahms, Schumann, Faure, William Wolstenholme, Kreisler, W.H. Reed, Eric Coates, Cecil Forsyth, John Ireland, and Mendelssohn; Timothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Baillieu; Harmonia Mundi
12 February 2024

Timothy Ridout's warm tribute to Lionel Tertis moves between powerful dramatic utterance and more domesticated, salon pieces, with every piece in a finely judged performance

Inspired by the supple violin playing of Fritz Kreisler, though entirely self-taught, Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) made it his mission to bring the viola back to the foreground in classical music. In order to create a repertoire, Tertis adapted existing material (famously creating a viola concerto from Elgar's Cello Concerto, see my review of Ridout's 2023 recording of this), as well as badgering composers for pieces. Like other such figures (his friend the cellist Pablo Casals, and the guitarist Segovia), Tertis' taste in music was relatively conservative and famously he would not give the premiere of Walton's Viola Concerto, though he later relented.

This disc from viola player Timothy Ridout and pianist Frank Dupree and James Baillieu on harmonia mundi is a celebration of Tertis' influence. There are two major sonatas, by York Bowen and Rebecca Clarke, along with Vaughan Williams' Six Studies in English Folk Song, plus occasional pieces by Tertis himself, Frank Bridge, Brahms, Schumann, Faure, William Wolstenholme, Kreisler, W.H. Reed, Eric Coates, Cecil Forsyth, John Ireland, and Mendelssohn. And expansive set across two discs, the first has Timothy Ridout accompanied by Frank Dupree, the second by James Baillieu. Ridout and Dupree gave a live selection from the disc at their recent Wigmore Hall recital [see my review]

York Bowen's Viola Sonata No.1 was dedicated to Tertis and the two men premiered the work in 1905. The first movement is passionate, romantic and strenuous, very much in the vein of post-Brahmsian music. The second features lyrically romantic writing for the viola, with Ridout doing much to emulate Tertis' famously warm tone. The final movement returns us to the vigorous world of the first movement, strong and passionate. Perhaps somewhat old-fashioned in European terms in 1905, but still a terrific work. 

The remainder of the first disc is devoted to more occasional pieces. Tertis' charmingly touching Sunset, then two pieces by Frank Bridge, himself a professional viola player somewhat younger than Tertis. Pensiero is moves from gentle wistfulness to passion, whilst Allegro appassionato is a torrent of virtuoso passion. 

Next follow three of Tertis arrangements of classics, Brahms' song Minnelied, Schumann's Romanze in F, and Fauré's Élégie in C minor, all three benefitting from the sophisticated playing from Ridout and Dupree. William Wolstenholme (1865-1931) is less well known, but Tertis took two organ pieces by the blind organist and arranged them. The first Allegretto is a delightful, salon-esque piece.

The first disc ends with a trio of arrangements of Fritz Kreisler, all heard in modern arrangements updating what Tertis did (and with Praeludium & Allegro he made cuts to fit on 78rpm discs). Liebesleid features Ridout at his most warmly attractive, whilst Praeludium & Allegro allow for some bravura playing and virtuoso display, particularly as the larger viola renders Kreisler's passagework more strenuous.

The second disc opens with Rhapsody by Elgar's friend, the violinist W.H. Reed, a vigorous and passionate piece. Then follows a touching little work by Eric Coates, himself a Tertis pupil. First Meeting: Souvenir was written for Tertis, but he had retired and never played it in public. The original manuscript was lost and it is here heard in John Wilson's new reconstruction of the original. Charming and touching, prime Eric Coates.

RVW wrote his Six Studies in English Folk Song for cellist May Mukle in 1926. Here Ridout and Baillieu bring a lovely veiled melancholy to the viola versions, ending in perky fashion with As I walked over London Bridge. Cecil Forsyth was a viola player and pupil of Stanford's who emigrated to the USA in 1914, and his Viola Concerto debuted at the Proms in 1903. Chanson Celtique from 1905 is a lovely piece of lyric melancholy, really making the viola sing.

Further arrangements follow, a finely effective and touching account of John Ireland's Holy Boy, then one of Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte. 

Tertis' Hier au soir proves to be a delightful piece of salon music, gracefully performed by Ridout and Baillieu, and then comes the second Wolstenholme piece, the charming The Question. Next is something of a curiosity, an obbligato that York Bowen wrote for the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

The disc ends in far more serious territory, with the Viola Sonata by Tertis' sometime pupil, Rebecca Clarke. It is a terrific work and receives a powerful performance here. Dramatic and muscular, the first movement moves between passion and rhapsody, as the music exists in a complex world that hovers between English folksong and French impressionism. The second movement is perky, folk-ish dance, that never quite settles, whilst the slow final movement is deeply felt and questioning, leading to powerfully passionate moment.

The repertoire on the disc moves between powerful dramatic utterance and more domesticated, salon pieces, and the beauty of Ridout, Dupree and Baillieu's approach is that every single piece gets a finely judged performance. Throughout Ridout's warm tone and technical brilliance mean that there is much to enjoy.

Whilst I very much enjoyed Ridout and Dupree's Wigmore Hall recital based on the disc, though the set is a wonderful tribute to Tertis, it is very much for dipping into and I cannot quite imagine listening to it from beginning to end very often. That said, Ridout's playing throughout is enough to make a raison d'être for the set.

YORK BOWEN (1884-1961) - Viola Sonata No. 1, Op. 18
LIONEL TERTIS (1876-1975) - Sunset
FRANK BRIDGE (1879-1941) - Pensiero; Allegro appassionato
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897) - Minnelied
ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856) - Romance
GABRIEL FAURÉ (1845-1924) - Élégie
WILLIAM WOLSTENHOLME (1865-1931) - Allegretto
FRITZ KREISLER (1875-1962) - Liebesleid; Praeludium & Allegro (in the style of Pugnani)
WILLIM HENRY REED (1876-1942) - Rhapsody
ERIC COATES (1886-1957) - First Meeting (Souvenir)
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) - Six Studies in English Folk Song
CECIL FORSYTH (1870-1941) - Chanson celtique
JOHN IRELAND (1879-1962) - The Holy Boy
FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) - Song Without Words
LIONEL TERTIS - Hier au soir
YORK BOWEN - Obbligato to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
REBECCA CLARKE (1886-1979) - Viola Sonata
Timothy Ridout (viola)
Frank Dupree (piano)
James Baillieu (piano)
Recorded January & April 2023, Wyastone Concert Hall

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