The restriction of this disc to the viola music of fairly obscure British-American composer Rebecca Clarke may seem to come from the realm of arcana, but in fact, Clarke seems to have had a predilection for the viola. The 10 works recorded here represent about one-eighth of her total output, and the disc can serve as an introduction to a fascinating story. Clarke may have gravitated toward the viola because the Sonata for viola and piano that opens the program was her most successful work, taking second prize at a 1919 competition only because patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge broke a tie and proclaimed Ernest Bloch the winner. Clarke was a composer with ears open to much of the diverse music that surrounded her, but she certainly suffered because of her gender. Some claimed, as Clarke recalled in an interview cited in the informative booklet, that she, a woman, couldn't have written the sonata, that Bloch must have written it in order to enter the contest with two different works. Clarke, a student of Charles Stanford, composed only intermittently, but she showed an unusual ability to imprint her own personality on music of various kinds.
The short works on the album may be the most compelling, as a distinct lyricism shines through pastoral works (the Lullaby on an Ancient Irish Tune, track 5, as well as other pieces), concise non-Western-influenced modernism (the little Chinese Puzzle), and an almost neo-Classic work (the Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale). The Sonata for viola and piano is a Brahmsian late Romantic work, and the Dumka, track 11, harks back to Dvorák, but neither one sounds derivative, and violist Philip Dukes, collaborating most of the time with pianist Sophia Rahman, gives the music the generally passionate performance it deserves. Sample the hypnotic Morpheus (track 7), which Clarke wrote under the pen name of Anthony Trent and accordingly saw it receive a better reception than works published under her own name, for an example of music that is obviously conversant with the works of many twentieth century composers but owes its soul to none of them.