One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

in the first division

extraordinary by any standards

An excellent disc

a new benchmark

summation of a lifetime’s experience.

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
Surprise Best Seller and now

A Garland for John McCabe


DIETHELM Symphonies

The best Rite of Spring in Years

BACH Magnificat

Brian Symphs 8, 21, 26

Just enjoy it!

La Mer Ticciati







Plain text for smartphones & printers

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Benjamin DALE (1885-1943)
The Romantic Viola
Suite for viola and piano in D major, Op. 2 (1905) [33:11]
Introduction and Andante for six violas, Op. 5 (1911) [10:38]
Phantasy for viola and piano, Op. 4 (1910) [20:05]
Yuko Inoue (viola); Stephen Coombs (piano); RAM Viola Sextet (Yuko
Yuko Inoue (viola); Stephen Coombs (piano); RAM Viola Sextet (Yuko Inoue; Clifton Harrison; Richard Waters; Wenhong Luo; Tighan Liu; Anna Lusty)
rec. Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, UK, 6, 20, 23 July 2012. DDD
NAXOS 8.573167 [63:54]

I remember a party, over ten years ago, at which I met an elderly lady who had been a pupil of Benjamin Dale. She spoke very warmly of him as a person and of his music. She was a pianist and was especially excited about the Piano Sonata now recognised as a masterpiece. A couple of recordings are available but I especially like the version by Danny Driver on Hyperion CDA67827. To my knowledge there are only two other recordings of Dale’s viola music: Dutton CDLX7204 and Etcetera KTC1105.
The CD opens with the longest work. I found myself wondering why the composer had called it a Suite, and not a Sonata. I came up with no real reason but ‘Sonatina’ would certainly not have been suitable. A Suite tends towards shorter and possibly lighter music, even accompanied by a set of titles or descriptions and perhaps with ideas taken from an opera. Anyway it rarely tends towards the abstract although something personal and emotional may lie behind the notes. The Dale Suite is in three movements and is a substantial construction, rare if not unique in the viola repertoire of the time. Lionel Tertis was the recipient of the Suite - part of his quest to put “the viola on the map”. Interestingly Dale calls his big opening movement a Prelude. It is in the form of a Fantasy with a constantly developing set of strong melodies. The middle section of the second movement, Romance, and the dance-like first subject of the Finale have a distinctly Celtic, one may even say Baxian feel. There’s also a touch of modality. The other ideas are definitely set in a Romantic world and we are speaking Rachmaninov here. The finale’s second subject is awash with effulgent harmonies and a wide-ranging viola line. It’s odd to think that when first performed this extrovert Finale which brings this virtuoso work to a happy and exuberant conclusion, was not played. The work then ended with the soft airs of the Romance and I can quite see how that might work. However this last movement suffers from no ‘finale problem’ and comes off brilliantly.
Dale was held captive in Germany during World War One but on his return composed very little. Why was that? Perhaps like, Ivor Gurney, he was psychologically scarred. However, it might have been because he realised that the musical world, with which he may have had little contact during that time, had changed almost overnight and his style was no longer congenial to the new epoch. That said, it should not be forgotten that there is also the large-scale, gorgeously nostalgic Violin Sonata of 1926.
ThePhantasy form which had been resurrected due to the Cobbett Prize in the early years of the century had produced some outstanding works, not least the ones by Frank Bridge. Twelve minutes was the suggested length. Dale, who liked to think on a bigger scale, wrote his single movement work in 1910 and it lasts twenty minutes. A young music student of mine commented after hearing Dale’s Phantasy that “It’s the viola masterwork Elgar never composed”. It’s true that some passages have the ‘nobilmente’ feel and the drive of Elgar, but the slow introduction on the piano and the wonderful opening folk-like melody which is quite modal and which returns towards the end after the faster music, is more in tune with Vaughan Williams with a Gallic accent. Yuko Inoue who plays with such beauty and commitment also comments in her excellent booklet essay on how Lionel Tertis, who with Dale’s great friend York Bowen premiered the work, may well have made some adjustments to the viola writing. It’s not quite clear how many, if any, have been retained for this recording.
In between these two vast works lies one of the great joys of this disc: the Introduction and Andante for Six Violas. Not only is the music superb and captivating throughout its glorious ten minutes but also it has been recorded by six wonderful, young viola players from the Royal Academy (pictured within). They are perfectly in tune with this music although they can hardly have known it for long. Dale introduces, right from the start, some dramatic effects such as a powerful tremolando, the use of ponticello and harmonics and bowing alongside pizzicato. He even asks the sixth viola to tune down the bottom string a perfect fourth to accommodate the ending low A flat. This work is magnanimous and romantic in mood but also quite English. It’s a good advert for Dale, for the viola and for such promising and youthful players. No wonder Dale’s teacher Frederick Corder pronounced the work a masterpiece.
All of the performances are quite superb and in my view it would be difficult to find them bettered. It seems that this CD emerged out of a Viola Festival that Yuko Inoue directed in 2011. It offered young players a chance to show their abilities and included much forgotten, brand new or little known repertoire. This took place at the RAM and is certainly should be a regular event.
Gary Higginson 

And a further review ...
Here are two substantial works for viola and piano juxtaposed with a ten minute piece for six violas. Lionel Tertis inspired these works. They're all from the first decade of the last century and are the fruit of the free-ranging late-romantic tendency seemingly fostered or focused by the Royal Academy of Music.
Benjamin Dale's flame guttered early after burning high on the sort of oxygen that sustained the likes of Paul Corder, Arnold Bax and York Bowen. Their music - each sui generis - favoured Liszt, Tchaikovsky and the Russian nationalists. They embraced wild, woolly, moody, instinctive and rhapsodic where the scions of Parry and Stanford at the RCM drank deep Brahmsian draughts.
The Suite is a meaty three movement work from Dale's very short list of works. The moody Fantasy-Prelude recalls the dark and psychologically spidery rhapsodising of the Bax Viola Sonata. The Romance is more liberated and passionate and flies high and wide, at times suggestive of Korngold. It too feels a pull towards slowly shifting shadows but often spins most tender romance. This can be heard at 08:01 in II which has a lovingly spun melody of which Yuko Inoue is a sensitive and eloquent advocate. She finds this again in the Finale. Where other composers might have termed this work a Sonata Dale opted for the more romantically accommodating Suite - a typically unbuttoned RAM choice. Not that Dale did not write sonatas. After all the most famous or least obscure of his works is his epic piano sonata dedicated to York Bowen.
The Introduction and Andante for six violas is another serious work spun from the same cloth as the Bax Rhapsody for viola and orchestra. It makes for an agreeable melos - just in case you were wondering. It sounds, from the title and specification, to be an academic one-off. So it might have been but let me just emphasise that that this is a most fascinating piece of romantic-impressionist writing. The prospects of hearing it in concert may be rare but this recording gives you a chance to revel in its exultant almost Viennese density of melody and its touching power to communicate.
Finally comes the Cobbett work, the Phantasy for viola and piano. It’s in one single twenty minute span. It was premiered by Dale and Bowen and began life with an even more Baxian title: ‘Ballade’. The work begins in supernatural and dank mode but shifts in atmosphere as good Phantasies should. It moves from sinister to serenading to imaginative flights which lean into Kreislerian succulence.
Liner-notes, recording and performances serve these romantic early twentieth century works very well indeed.
Rob Barnett 

Previous review: Nick Barnard

Benjamin Dale - a reassessment by Christopher Foreman