This is Volume 2 in our series of British works for cello and piano, performed by the exclusive Chandos artist Paul Watkins, with his brother Huw Watkins on the piano. Acclaimed for his inspirational performances and eloquent musicianship, Paul Watkins enjoys a distinguished career as both a cellist and conductor.
The three sonatas on this album were written within the space of three years, 1921 – 23, by three composers – Bowen, Ireland, and Bax – all of whom at the time were regarded as leading figures of their generation in Britain.
Through all the tumultuous changes of the early twentieth century, Bowen’s music remained essentially the same: traditional in form, romantic in expression, confidently idiomatic in its instrumental writing. His output was nearly forgotten for decades following the death of Bowen in 1961, although it is now happily undergoing a small revival. Bowen was particularly skilled at writing finales, and here too, in his Cello Sonata, Op. 64, it makes for the most inventive movement of the work, with the percussive piano writing and a lively cello theme driving the sonata to a most flamboyant conclusion.
Arnold Bax liked to call himself a ‘brazen romantic’, perhaps with a touch of defiance. He is today principally remembered as a composer for the orchestra, with a copious and colourful output of symphonic poems and symphonies. But he also wrote a great deal of chamber and instrumental music, much of it of excellent quality, including several works for cello. By 1923, when his cello sonata in E flat was written, he was at the height of his powers, and recognised as one of the foremost living British composers. This work is particularly fascinating in the way that it moves restlessly back and forth among its various elements, at one moment breaking out in savage dance, at another lapsing into romantic reverie.
Much more concise than Bax’s expansive sonata, Ireland’s is a tautly-constructed and virile work, full of passionate intensity. Apart from an arrangement of his popular piano prelude The Holy Boy, this was the only work by Ireland to feature a solo cello, and as is the case with the other two sonatas on this album, it places great virtuosic demands on both performers.