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Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)
Sonatina for Viola (or Clarinet) and Piano (1946)
Miniature Suite, for Clarinet and Viola (1956)
Trio, for Clarinet, Viola and Piano (1969)
Variations, for solo Viola (1975)
Prelude, Passacaglia and Fugue, for Violin and Viola (1948)
Jadwiga Stanek (viola)
Borys Biniecki (clarinet)
Bolesław Siarkiewicz (violin)
Magdalena Swatowska (piano)
rec. 2019/20, Roman Suchecki Concert Hall, Feliks Nowowiekjski Academy of Music, Bydgoszcz, Poland
DUX 1847 [58]

This is a slightly odd departure for a label that largely specialises in its Polish repertoire but one that’s explained by violist Jadwiga Stanek in a very brief booklet introduction. She was attracted to Jacob’s music and with the help and support of other soloists and chamber musicians has constructed a programme that charts his viola music over a three-decade period, from 1946 to 1975. It does indeed, as she suggests, show the ‘universal character of the viola part’ but it might have been helpful, not least to Polish listeners – her note states, ominously, that ‘Jacob is a British composer, not very popular in Poland’ – to have written about the works rather than just stating what’s performed.

The Viola Sonatina is the earliest work and it’s also known in its form for clarinet (review), in which guise I praised its clean-limbed and succinct virtues, ‘full of poise and poetry’. Its focal point is surely the lovely central lullaby, an example of Jacob’s generosity of expression equally persuasive on viola as on clarinet. The Miniature Suite of 1956 is actually written for both these instruments, viola and clarinet, and here one encounters his sheer modesty; good, practical composition with charming details enliven the four movements. Whether in unison or in answering phrases, this is a work of rich moods and, in the finale, a duly quirky and ingenious fugue.

For the Trio, Jacob adds a piano to the two instruments. There is an unusual gravity to the opening Adagio molto and a sombreness that seldom permeates his music to quite this extent. Though there’s a pleasing Menuetto, an even slower and sparer Adagio molto reappears that gathers incrementally in warmth to turn into a kind of affirmative processional, ushering in a finale full of vivacity and colour. This is a perfectly balanced work, lyric lines finely distributed and the temper of the music well judged. It’s also eloquently performed. The Variations for viola solo dates from 1948 is an eight-minute piece with nine variations – Sarabande, Waltz, Gigue and so on, fluid, elegant, and sectional. Finally, there’s the Prelude, Passacaglia and Fugue for violin and viola, dating from 1948. Jacob delighted in exploring new, viable and approachable chamber and instrumental repertoire and this piece is no exception. He shows his assured handling of older forms in a precise, clear way, ending with a trademark sparkling fugue. I’m not aware they ever played it, but it sounds tailor made for a top-class pairing of the time, Frederick Grinke and Watson Forbes.

With a well-balanced recorded sound and accomplished performances, this is a disc that wears well on repeated hearings.

Jonathan Woolf

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