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Album review: Cellist Simon Fryer offers rich, satisfying soak in Victorian sonatas

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Former Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Simon Fryer has with the help of pianist Leslie De’Ath laid out a generous, substantial and satisfying collection of pieces from Victorian England that reminds us again of all the musical riches slumbering on library shelves.

Fryer, artistic director of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and living and working in Regina, plays Victorian Cello Sonatas with a seductive blend of depth and restraint, knowing exactly when let a musical line loose from its bridle, yet never lallowing the Victorians’ love of melodrama get out of hand.

Doing fine work as piano partner, not just accompanist, is De’Ath, in this nicely balanced album of three world premiere recordings captured at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Maureen Forrester Hall in 2009 (that’s how long it has taken for this album to get released).

The only known work on the album is the Sonata No. 2 by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), the Irish-born composer who, along with Edward Elgar, dominated English music in the late-19th century and turn of the 20th.

This is a substantial three-movement piece carefully, richly crafted in the German late-Romantic tradition. But so also are the other two sonatas collected here for their first-ever recording: the Sonata No. 2 by Algernon Ashton (1859-1937) and an unpublished sonata by Samuel Liddle (1867-1951, and a student of Stanford’s in London) that De’Ath discovered in his sleuthing.

Rounding out the 77-minute CD on U.S. label Centaur is a touching Elegy by Liddle, who was clearly a talented composer despite never meeting with much success.

There is nothing shocking or unusual in any of this music; it is emphatically of its time, perhaps even looking backwards to the middle of the 19th century. But it is all well written and wouldn’t have to be embarassed to sit on a programme next to pieces by Brahms or Elgar.

My personal favourite from this set is Ashton’s, which has a wonderful lyrical quality that plays charmingly with dialogue between cellist and pianist.

It also helps that Fryer and De’Ath convey the music with elegance and utter conviction.

For not enough additional information on the album, click here.

And, to give a little taste of this music, here is Julian Lloyd Webber playing the third movement of the Stanford sonata with John McCabe:

John Terauds

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