Rebecca Clarke: Works for Viola

Reviewed on Mon 04 Jul, 2016

The Viola Sonata by Harrow-born Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) deserves immediate investigation. Cast in three movements, it's a delectable, tightly organised creation, full of first-rate invention and slumbering bardic power.

Composed in 1919 and premiered that same year to considerable acclaim at Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's Berkshire Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts, the Viola Sonata by Harrow-born Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) deserves immediate investigation. Cast in three movements, it's a delectable, tightly organised creation, full of first-rate invention and slumbering bardic power; indeed, I sense a strong stylistic and emotional kinship with two other near-contemporaneous masterpieces for the same instrumental combination, namely Ernest Bloch's Suite and Bax's Viola Sonata. Duo Rùnya comprises Italian sisters Diana and Arianna Bonatesta on viola and piano respectively, who turn in a performance of ravishing beauty and quiet intensity, admirably captured by the microphones. Other stand-out items in a most welcome programme devoted to this gifted composer-violist include the aptly dreamy Morpheus, delicate Chinese Puzzle, imposing Passacaglia on an Old English Tune and deeply touching Dumka (in which the Bonatestas are joined by violinist Gabriele Campagna). All in all, something of a treat.
–Andrew Achenbach