Clarke, Britten & Bowen British Music for Viola and Piano Claves

British Music for Viola and Piano
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata (1919)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Lachrymae for Viola and Piano Op.48 (1950)
York Bowen (1884-1961)
Phantasy in F Major for Viola and Piano (1918) 
Izabel Markova (viola)
Irene Puccia (piano: Clarke, Britten), Alla Belova (piano: Bowen)
rec. 2022, Utopia 1, HEMU – Haute Ecole de Musique, Lausanne, Switzerland
Claves CD3073 [54]

The main work in this interesting recital is the first, Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata. I had been hearing about this piece for a long time without actually hearing it, so I was pleased to have it for review here. Clarke was a professional viola player, but her composing was intermittent and eventually dried up altogether. She wrote mainly songs and piano pieces with a few chamber works, of which this viola sonata is the best-known. It was written in 1919 for a competition set up by the musical benefactor Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Clarke submitted it using the pseudonym Anthony Trent. It tied for first place with a work by Ernest Bloch, who was declared the winner. However, the judges asked to know the real identity of Anthony Trent and were astonished to find that it was a woman.

It is a powerful and sinewy work, in three movements of which the third is the longest. The idiom is late romantic verging on expressionist – it suggests to me the later Frank Bridge or even Berg. The outer movements are rhapsodic in character. The middle one is a scherzo slightly in the manner of Ravel. It is not surprising that it has established itself as a repertory work. Clarke also wrote a piano trio and a cello sonata. I shall be looking out for these.

Britten’s Lachrymae is also a good work, but far better known. It was written for the violist William Primrose and is based on a song by Dowland, ‘If my complaints could passions move.’ There are ten variations and the sixth quotes Dowland’s ‘Flow my tears.’ It is a characteristic Britten work, basically in C minor but occasionally with some bitonal moments.

York Bowen’s Phantasy is one of the many works written for Walter Cobbett’s phantasy competitions, for which he wanted single movements inspired by the English Renaissance viol consort phantasies – the spelling he preferred. It was written for Lionel Tertis. Bowen has been having something of a revival in recent years, but I found this the least interesting of the works here: vigorous, but in a manner which suggested pastiche Brahms. 

The players here are an international team: the violist Izabel Markova is Bulgarian, Irene Puccia, the pianist in the Clarke and the Britten is Italian, and Alla Belova, the pianist in the Bowen is Russian. However, they are now all based in Lausanne, where this recording was made. It is always encouraging to find players from outside Britain taking up our composers and I enjoyed these performances, which are full of fire and spirit. The recording is excellent. There are other recordings of all these works, but not in this combination, so viola fanciers need not hesitate.

Stephen Barber

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music