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Rebecca Clarke and the Romantics, RCS, Glasgow


BBC Radio 3's intriguing series, Women in the Shadows, being staged in conjunction with the Royal Conservatoire, ran into fog on Friday. The second concert in the series, originally billed as The Music of Rebecca Clarke, was particularly enticing: who is/was Rebecca Clarke? I had never heard of her. I was then perplexed when I arrived at the RCS on Friday to discover that the programme was now called Rebecca Clarke and the Romantics. What Romantics? And who on earth is/was this Clarke woman?

She was born in Harrow in 1886, the year Liszt died. Brahms still had 11 years to live. She was a viola player and composer who moved to the States. She wrote a viola sonata which she entered into a competition. She lost, partly on the grounds that the judges, apparently, did not believe that a woman could write such a piece.

Anyway, back to Friday's concert. What transpired was that the recital, completely distorted in its name and purpose, was in fact a celebrity recital by Lawrence Power, one of the greatest living violists, and his pianist-partner Simon Crawford-Phillips. (If they'd said that in the first instance they'd have sold a few more seats.)

Anyway, Power played a stirring performance of Arthur Benjamin's Viola Sonata and gave a completely haunting and beautiful account of Britten's Lachrymae. Rebecca Clarke's hugely-eclectic Viola Sonata (lots of Ravel) got off to a great start with its fanfare theme but, by the finale, had run out of steam, direction and purpose. Clarke regarded it, perhaps poignantly, as "the one whiff of success I've had in my life". I'm so sorry, Rebecca. She died in 1979.

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