When I present classical music on the radio, I never identify a composer by race or sex. I think it creates the impression that these are subsets of the main group of composers. There are composers, and there are women composers. Almost as good, but not quite.

I don’t think that’s true, and (apparently), neither does Lyrita. This release is simply titled “British Cello Works.” And it just happens to contain music by four women composers (instead of four men composers).

It also happens to contain four works for cello and piano of exceptional quality. The program opens with the Sonata in C minor for cello and piano by Ethel Smyth. Smyth wrote in a German late-Romantic style. This 1880 work features some beautifully crafted melodies and clear harmonic structures.

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Divertimento and Elisabeth Luytens’ Nine Bagatelles, Op. 10 were both written around 1942. The Divertimento is a lighter work than Smyth’s Sonata. The movements are predominated by strong rhythms and knitted together by shared themes.

Lutyens’ Nine Bagatelles has a contemporary sound. Lutyens drew inspiration from Stravinsky and Schoenberg. But her melodies aren’t as angular, and her serial composition isn’t as dissonant. Lutyen has her own style, and it’s quite effective in these miniatures.

Rebecca Clarke’s haunting Rhapsody for cello and piano closes the program. Her melodic lines are set against shifting and sometimes ambiguous harmonies. The Rhapsody has a mysterious quality to it I found captivating.

Cellist Lionel Handy and pianist Jennifer Hughes make quite a team. The sound of the instruments is nicely balanced. To me, many passages sounded more like intimate conversations between Handy and Hughes than soloist/accompanist.

Gender doesn’t matter — only the quality of the music and the performance. This is a quality release.

British Cello Works
Music by Ethel Smyth; Elizabeth Maconchy; Elisabeth Luytens; Rebekah Clarke
Lionel Handy, cello; Jennifer Hughes, piano
Lyrita SRCD 383