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A Century of British Women Composers
Music by Rebecca Clarke, May Mukle, Marie Dare, Margaret Hubicki, Imogen Holst and others.
Cello: Catherine Wilmers Piano: Simon Marlow
ASV Quicksilva CDQS6245
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This exciting collection of the cello music of ten British women composers might, superficially and unheard, be thought to amount to a kind of 'Virago' anthology - but in the event it is a finely poetic selection of virile music which betrays no hint of any protest of neglected femininity. These pieces for cello, lyrical for the most part, span, as the title suggests, some one hundred years - yet, although diverse in mood (from the fragrant 1890'ish pieces of Amy Horrocks to the 1994 Elegy in Memoriam Joan Dickson of Caroline Bosanquet) they present something of a unified expression. This recurrent 'theme' is reinforced by the fraternity - or rather sorority - in the close links between these composers - May Mukle premiered the Rebeccal Clarke Passacaglia: Sheila Power dedicated her lovely Irish Suite in F to May Mukle: both Margaret Hubicki and Marie Dare knew each other as pupils of Benjamin Dale - and there are both Irish and Scottish connotations. This is a disc to dip into nevertheless - for some twenty-two tracks of mostly reflective cello music could perhaps pall if swallowed whole. What this recording does above all is demonstrate the high quality and richly expressive musicianship that is to be found among relatively minor composers, well known in their own circles, yet too often only names to a wider audience. Even minor poets can find a universal place in anthologies, and only this kind of recording can do a like service for music. There are several substantial works, the longest being Rebecca Clarke's weighty and solemn Passacaglia of 1941 (originally for viola) - although perhaps too weighty as introduction to the disc? Dipping here however yields unexpected treasures. There are two exceptionally fine works by Margaret Hubicki - 'Lonely Mere', a richly romantic evocation of a lake in the Malverns, the central climactic falling theme, returning on piano at the end, well worthy of Dale himself. Her Rigaudon is perhaps more Irish than Scots? The bulk, if not all, of the solo cello music of Marie Dare follows - only one, 'A Day Dream', has been recorded before (in its version for four cellos) and all but the final 'Fisherman's Song' contemplative music in keeping with the quiet vistas and leisurely pace of those isles which inspired the music. The music of the oldest composer, Amy Horrocks, has the fragrant charm of a bygone day (curiously reminiscent of Alicia Adelaide Needham) - her Poldini-like Country Dance one of the few capricious items.

Unlike the earlier pieces on the disc, the Scottish folk song arrangements of Imogen Holst derive their beauty not from rich chords but from the linear counterpoint in which the melodies are interwoven. A Straussian Polka by Dora Bright - a pupil of Moskowski - is salon music of the best quality.

Finally two contemporary works provide contrast. Another Scot Janetta Gould's 'Sontag 2' (1977) is probably the most advanced in idiom, using serial techniques with a palindromic repeat of the introductory material at the end. Caroline Bosanquet's tribute to that fine Edinburgh cellist, Joan Dickson, is also couched in strongly atonal accents - agonised, powerful music, with its evocative hint of the 'last post' in the concluding cello line.

We need many more collections of this sort - for the byways of British music remain fertile fields for discovery. I heartily recommend this CD.

Colin Scott-Sutherland


Colin Scott-Sutherland

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