CD review | Clarke, Bridge, Vaughan Williams:
Hyperion CDA68253

"Hands up: I hadn’t realised that Rebecca Clarke had authorised a cello version of her much-recorded Viola Sonata, although it has in fact been recorded by at least two cellists. But still, I suspect that this beautifully produced recital from Natalie Clein and Christian Ihle Hadland will be many listeners’ first encounter with the cello version of this superb work, and I strongly suspect that they’ll be as impressed by it as I was.

The sonata reveals several new facets when played on the cello, the principal one being the new depth and physicality of the sound world. Clein makes the most of that, with a tonal palette that ranges from thick charcoal-black to muted pastels, beautifully controlled and shaped in the service of Clarke’s ardent musical narrative. The first movement is headed Impetuoso and throughout this disc Clein and Hadland never stint on commitment.

In the second movement of Bridge’s wartime Cello Sonata, for example, the transition from uneasy calm to jagged, angst-ridden turmoil and on to soaring, impassioned lyricism is handled with poetry and passion. Clein is never afraid to let you hear the rasp of bow on string, and Hadland, too, knows how to make a climax thrillingly sonorous without overwhelming his partner.

Around these two imposing central performances, the pair unerringly find the right atmosphere for each of the various miniatures by Vaughan Williams and Bridge; catching the wit of Bridge’s Scherzo and the lilt of his Serenade as well as the sense of lengthening shadows that lies behind all that melodic charm. The acoustic is lucid, natural and intimate: excellent booklet notes by Paul Hindmarsh and cover art by Eric Ravilious are simply the icing on the cake."

Richard Bratby 2019,  Gramophone Magazine

 CD review | Musicweb International

Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Viola Sonata, in cello version (1919) [22:05]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Serenade H23 (1903) [2:41]
Spring Song H104 No 2 (c.1912) [2:18]
Scherzo H19a (c.1902) [3:42]
Cello Sonata H125 (1913-17) [21:03]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Six Studies in English Folk Song (1926) [8:09]
Natalie Clein (cello)
Christian Ihle Hadland (piano)
rec. 2017, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
HYPERION CDA68253 [60:07]

"Natalie Clein proves a dramatic, wholehearted interpreter of the cello version of Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata. Recently Raphael Wallfisch and John York recorded it for Lyrita and not only do Clein and Christian Ihle Hadland drive through it two and a half minutes faster, they have been recorded in a much more immediate, forward acoustic, which only intensifies the vibrancy and intensity of their reading. These are two very different ways of approaching a work that in recent years has become something of a viola repertory piece; the soft-grained but subtly distanced Wallfish-York, or the almost overwrought Clein-Hadland. Yet if the younger pair maintained that dangerously exciting adrenalin their performance would buckle; they don’t. Their reflective, inwardly musing passages are just as powerfully phrased and just as compelling. Legato is ardently explored, the folkloric pizzicati in the central fast movement ricocheting with great youthful panache, and in the bipartite finale – Adagio then Allegro – she vests that opening section with a lovely range of colours before unleashing renewed passion. There’s real kinship at work here, performers and work at one; the sonata positively sizzles in this performance. Note too that Clein and William Foster prepared the cello part.

The companion sonata is Frank Bridge’s, composed between 1913 and 1917. Here the Clein-Hadland outrun by precisely the same amount – two and a half minutes - another older Hyperion pairing, the Nash Ensemble’s Paul Watkins and Ian Brown. Watkins, himself no slouch in the declamation stakes, with a raft of splendid Chandos British cello sonatas to his name, sounds positively becalmed next to the molten Clein. Some may not always find her intensely vibrated playing, here and also, perhaps, in the Clarke to their liking. It has to be admitted that sometimes it sounds too booming and intense. And, a stern critic might note that Watkins is more persuasive in the music’s nostalgia. Yet, for all that, Clein runs the gamut of emotions and there is a real personality at work. This applies to what some might consider Bridge’s morceaux but Clein’s not having it at all. The Serenade – you can here, and elsewhere, hear her anticipatory sniffs – is played with more ardour than is usually encountered in this early work. And she can hardly be accused of underplaying the Scherzo of c.1902 which is dispatched with a will o’ the wisp virtuosity that sizzles with flair and then has the wit to treat the B section with the coyly salon charm it requires.

Vaughan William’s Six Studies in English Folk Song close the disc, their compact charms conveyed with apposite refinement. I’d single out her phrasing in Spurn Point – absolutely lovely – and the piece that seems to convey something of Clein’s own sense of fearless commitment, As I walked over London Bridge.

The earlier Bridge Hyperion disc sported Eric Ravilious cover art. The label’s design team clearly has its own sense of wit as they’ve used another Ravilious for this one. The documentation is well up to Hyperion’s high standards and I can say without any hesitation that if you’re looking for high-octane performances of this repertoire, then make the Clein-Hadland duo your first port of call."

Jonathan Woolf

CD review | Limelight Magazine

Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata is a gem of the instrument’s repertoire so it’s no surprise that others, such as cellists, might want to poach it – and as well they might, given it was originally published “for viola or cello”. British cellist Natalie Clein digs into the opening cadenza-like gesture bringing out the folk influences that infuse the work – and what is dark and enigmatic on viola becomes deep, resonant and throaty on cello.

A violist, Clarke – who was born to an American mother and German father – became only the sixth woman to join Henry Wood’s Queen Hall Orchestra in London. She entered her Sonata in a competition organised by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1919, the piece losing out (narrowly) to Ernest Bloch’s suite for viola and piano and causing a stir due to the composer’s gender. The piece has remained her best-loved work.

The cello gives Clarke’s Sonata a different character, and Clein – along with pianist Christian Ihle Hadland – offers a fine account in this recording for Hyperion, growling into the low register, the double-stops thrumming with a power that can’t be achieved on a viola, the trade-off for losing some of the finer-edged sound of the smaller instrument.

But Clein wields her cello with subtlety – hear the transcendent delicacy that finishes the first movement, or the exquisitely impassioned intensity of the finale.

A trio of light, but charming, genre-pieces by a contemporary of Clarke’s – Frank Bridge – serve as an introduction to Bridge’s two-movement Cello Sonata, written against the backdrop of the First World War. Again Clein’s expressive sound is compelling, lyrical in the opening against shimmering piano from Hadland, while the Adagio second movement is haunting.

Clein and Hadland bring the disc to a close with Vaughan Williams’ beautiful Six Studies in English Folk Song. Vaughan Williams, an influence on both of the other composers on this disc, wrote these studies for cellist May Mukle and her sister and pianist Anne. Simply drawn, the melodies are harmonised with beguiling colours, and Clein and Hadland refrain from over-egging them.

This is a charming disc with a folky, salon feel at times. If Bridge’s music pales somewhat against that of the more complex textures of the Clarke or the refined elegant lines of the Vaughan Williams, Clein’s heartfelt advocacy makes it a satisfying listen all round.

Angus McPherson