Jenkinson & Farr Play Cello Sonatas

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L. ROSE: Cello Sonata. SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Sonata. The Gadfly: Prelude and Romance (Youth)* / Katherine Jenkinson, cel; *Nicholas Holland, cel; Alison Farr, pno / Stone Records 5060192780895

Everyone knows the name of Dmitri Shostakovich, even those who don’t particularly like his music, but I doubt that more than a few hundred classical buffs know who Lawrence Rose is. A British violinist born in 1943, Rose developed a passion for composing but pursued neither career, opting instead for a career in law, which he didn’t leave until 2001 at the age of 58. His sonata for cello and piano was completed in 2015 and dedicated to the artists who play it here.

Rose’s sonata is written in what I call “accepted modern edgy style,” full of dissonances from the very first note and playing on dissonance throughout. This is not to say that the music is vapid or uninteresting; on the contrary, it is full of interesting ideas, and Katherine Jenkinson has a full, rich tone and dazzling technique that do it full justice. The point I am making is that the music does not have a personal style, but is, rather, following a generic trend in the modern classical world. With that being said, Rose stops the music at about the 2:30 mark in the first movement to produce an almost neo-Romantic theme which is then developed for some time before a return to the edgy music at the five-minute mark. Rose likes to build his music stepwise in rising patterns. I particularly liked the second movement with its insistent march rhythm, allied to rising and falling chromatic passages. All in all, it’s a very clever piece that has its attractions; it’s just not particularly distinctive in style. The slow movement is moody and affecting without being cloying, and I really appreciated this aspect of Rose’s score, but the last movement, which is also slow until a minute before the end, is too episodic.

The Shostakovich sonata is a famous piece, and the Jenkinson-Farr duo plays it very well, but although it was recorded at the same location as the Rose sonata (All Saints’ Church, Orpington, Kent in the UK), the sonics are completely different. Whereas the Rose sonata is recorded with a good, warm, close microphone placement, the mics were obviously pulled back quite a bit for the Shostakovich piece, giving both instruments (but especially the cello) too much reverb to swim around in. This is particularly detrimental in the slow third movement, the beginning of which was barely audible through my speakers because it was too distantly recorded. Nonetheless, the performance is a very fine one when you can actually hear it. Jenkinson plays with a great deal of nuance without sounding coy or sentimental.

As a bonus, we get two movements from Shostakovich’s 1955 Gadfly Suite, the “Prelude” and “Romance,” which are played with a great deal of heart by Jenkinson. These, too, are recorded at a distance, and feature Nicholas Holland as second cellist. The music is more Romantic in both harmony and style than one is used to from Shostakovich.

Good performances all round, then, with good sonics in the Rose sonata and overly tubby sound in the Shostakovich pieces.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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