British Cello Works, Vol. 2
Britten: Cello Sonata; Delius: Cello Sonata; Gibbs: Cello Sonata; Smyth: Cello Sonata
Lionel Handy (cello), Jennifer Walsh (piano)
Lyrita SRCD412 67:58 mins
Ethel Smyth’s Cello Sonata dates from 1887, and though it’s possible to hear Brahms in it – Smyth had met the composer in Leipzig – it’s certainly a distinctive piece. The slow movement is especially impressive, cellist Lionel Handy and pianist Jennifer Walsh catching effectively its air of intimate introspection. The recorded balance favours Handy, to the occasional detriment of Walsh’s delicately expressive playing.
The pair make cogent sense of the jittering rhythms in the opening movement of Britten’s Cello Sonata, though the cello detail can be smudgy in multi-stopped passages. Close miking again handicaps the ‘Scherzo pizzicato’, Handy’s cello making a dry and airless impression. Both players react quick-wittedly to the tricky ‘Marcia’ and ‘Moto Perpetuo’ movements concluding the Sonata.
The inclusion of Armstrong Gibbs’s 1951 Cello Sonata fills a gap in the recording catalogue, and its pithy, economical opening movement has a pleasing fluidity and momentum in Handy’s and Walsh’s performance. Some of Handy’s phrasing here and in the more boisterous finale seems effortful, an impression possibly magnified by the cramped acoustic.
Delius’s single-movement Cello Sonata is an easy work to overheat emotionally, but Handy and Walsh balance out the rhapsodising with a clear-eyed overview of how the piece is laid out structurally. The central section has a wistful nostalgia, while the conclusion sensibly avoids overplaying a sense of bounding exuberance. Paul Conway’s booklet notes are excellent, and those interested in British cello repertoire will find the Gibbs and Smyth recordings here particularly useful.