The passionate and sophisticated music of Rebecca Clarke formed the core of this thoughtfully assembled Wigmore Hall programme. Her subtle and emotionally dynamic Rhapsody, in four movements, found Raphael Wallfisch in persuasively lyrical form. Commissioned in 1919 by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge the piece has languished unpublished until this year. Wallfisch and John York gave a beautifully calibrated performance of compassion and great artistry, exposing the complex and layered writing. This was matched by Ailish Tynan’s exquisite reading of the Clarke’s Yeats setting, A Dream, with hints of Ravel.
There were more discoveries the songs of two other female composers were highlighted, not least Muriel Herbert’s, many of which were not published in her lifetime in spite of approval from her teacher Charles Villiers Stanford, who also taught Clarke. Seven Children’s Songs sparkled with humour and lightness of touch, followed by Herbert’s accomplished and atmospheric The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Her bittersweet Jour des Morts connected with the melancholy of the two Lili Boulanger mélodies of Maeterlinck, intense and hallucinatory, and sung masterfully by Tynan, with superlative phrasing and breath control.
The final piece, Ernest Bloch’s Suite for Viola and Piano (transcribed for cello), unexpectedly became the key to the concert. It was written exactly a century ago and won for Bloch the Berkshire Chamber Music Competition. Initially the first prize was awarded jointly and anonymously to Bloch and to Clarke for her Viola Sonata. When her identity as a woman was revealed The Daily Telegraph proposed that both pieces were by Bloch, as a woman would not be capable of writing such a substantial work. Coolidge, who endowed the prize, later commissioned Rhapsody in recognition of Clarke’s talent. The Bloch made a striking contrast, redolent with European and Jewish folk themes. Wallfisch and York powered through this impressive work with characterful virtuosity.
Ailish Tynan rejoined them for encores, two moving Clarke folksong settings, I Bid my Heart be Still and the witty Irish ditty, I know my Love.