Mike Tilling, Arts Correspondent

Classical Music: Sola Music for Viola by Women Composers

Sola – Music for viola by women composers

Rosalind Ventris - viola

Bacewicz Kaprys polski No. 1**; Fuchs, L Sonata Pastorale for Unaccompanied Viola; Feery Boreal*; Beamish Penillion*; Lutyens Echo of the Wind;Maconchy Sketches (5) for Solo Viola; Imogen Holst Suite for Unaccompanied Viola; Musgrave In the Still of the Night; Light at the End of the Tunnel*

*premiere recording
**premiere recording in this arrangement

Delphian: DCD34292

How do you deal with a large exhibition at an art gallery? The fifty or sixty pieces on the walls are just too many to deal with adequately, don’t you agree?

My method is to do a quick tour of everything, noting half a dozen that I want to come back to later and, assuming the guardians will allow, walk back to give the selected half dozen the attention they deserve.

I tried a similar approach with the compilation on Rosalind Ventris’ debut album Sola. Each piece was either written specifically for the viola or had been transposed by Ventris herself. In the end I chose a composer I had never heard of – Grazyna Bacevicz – one I wish I’d never encountered – Elisabeth Lutyens, and one I thought I could trust – Imogen Holst.

Not only does each piece feature a rare experience, the viola as a solo instrument, but all the pieces are superbly played by Ventris and feature women composers. I know that violist jokes are traditional among musicians: (“What’s the difference between a coffin and a viola? A coffin has the dead on the inside)”, but most are cheap shots and only marginally funny.

Ventris’ women are part of the current reassessment of composers who have been shamefully neglected or ignored in the past: time to set some records straight.

My choice of the unknown composers is Grazyna Bacewyz and her Kaprys Polski (arr. Rosalind Ventris).

Having written over 200 pieces, including four symphonies, she must be a prime example of ‘neglect’. Her work stands as an excellent starting point for the CD as a whole, introducing the reflective, rather pensive mood of many of the pieces. It was originally composed as an encore showpiece, but is soulful and reflective, than playful and dynamic.

In Elisabeth Lutyens’ Echo of the Wind Op. 57, I can find no aural evidence of an echo nor a wind. I suppose when you are an avant garde composer you are allowed to eschew anything as banal as a title that makes sense.

It was Lutyens who famously coined the term ‘cowpat music’ for contemporaries she did not like: Vaughan Williams (my favourite cowpatter) Gustav Holst, John Ireland, etc. She went on to characterise their music as ‘folky, wolky melodies on the cor anglais’.

Here, her music consists largely of scratches with the bow bouncing on the strings, plus rapid ascents, and descents, with rests and crescendos. I think the listening public has voted with its wallet on music like this.

Imogen Holst gives us a Suite for Viola. It is divided into four sections; Prelude – Cinquepace (I had to look it up - a 16th Century dance) – Saraband – Gigue. The whole piece is beautifully melodic without being in the least sentimental. The Saraband is stately and the Gigue agile and humorous. In other words, Holst’s music adds to the range of the whole compilation. I am sure that ‘range’ was one of the thoughts in Ventris’ mind when deciding which pieces warranted inclusion.

The recording quality by Delphian is superb with every note clear and crisp. The CD has helpful notes on each piece and on the artist herself. I wonder how much longer we will be able to browse as we listen before everything is ‘streamed’.