Adrian Bradbury cello
Andrew West piano


It might be thought perverse to choose the shortest piece here as the defining example of the distinguished artistry epitomised within. Grainger’s Variations on Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith’, which later blossomed into the more familiar Handel in the Strand, lasts just over one and half minutes.

Yet Adrian Bradbury’s cantabile is so refulgent, his intonation so impeccable, his phrasing so exquisite, that I played this miniature four times before moving on to the rest of the fascinating programme, in which all these qualities remain abundant. Built around the repertoire of cellist Beatrice Harrison, the focus falls particularly on two other members of the Frankfurt Gang – Cyril Scott and Roger Quilter – together with much rarer items by Iwan Knorr and Hugo Becker.

The title of the disc originates from Grainger’s christening of the group as ‘Pre-Raphaelite composers’, and many pieces are first recordings, or new in these versions. Becker, Harrison’s teacher at Frankfurt, is represented by two short pieces taken from a set of six entitled Liebesleben, both richly melodic and rather Schumannesque. 

The arrangement of solo art song for cello and piano is not new to CD (Julian Lloyd Webber transcribed Delius and Ireland for Naxos thirteen years ago); but this issue allows us to relish afresh several Quilter favourites: Dream Valley, two songs from To Julia, a Slumber Song from the children’s play, Where the Rainbow Ends, and his arrangements of the traditional L’amour de moy, and Lully’s Bois épais.

Similarly encore-like is Grainger’s lyrical The Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol, which, no matter how it is ‘dished-up’, remains as spicily indulgent as a wassail-bowl. Grainger’s passionate but rather meandering Youthful Rapture, was written in 1901 towards the end of his time in Frankfurt. His teacher there was Knorr, sometime professor of music in Ukraine but known principally as a virtuoso pianist, whose Brahmsian Variations on a Theme of Klimsch are well-written and pleasant without being especially memorable.

Some enthusiastic outpourings of Scott, his other pupil, compel greater attention, including Vesperale,and the op. 57 Lullaby. Pierrot amoureux, dedicated to Harrison, is one of several pieces by Scott based on the commedia dell’arte. Further illustrations of his individuality are a substantial and powerful Ballade, and an extraordinarily colourful Pastoral and Reel, scored for cello alone until the very last bars, but often sounding like two instruments at once.

Bradbury is expertly accompanied by Andrew West, whose intelligent musicianship I have admired since his accounts of Howells’ chamber music for Metier in 1992. All the composers have been finely served by this most rewarding partnership, and the recording quality, made in the Yehudi Menuhin School, is exemplary. 

Review by Andrew Plant