The Pre-Raphaelite Cello — British Gold

My first reaction when this release crossed my desk wasn’t kind. I had nothing against the composers or the performers — just the title. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of British painters and poets who wanted authenticity. 

In the 1850s the mannered style of Raphael and Michelangelo defined academic art. As their name suggests, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by an earlier style. It was one of intense color and an almost hyperrealistic luminosity. (See the cover for this release.)

The Pre-Raphaelite movement petered out in the mid-1850s. So how, I wondered, could these early 20th-century composers be considered Pre-Raphaelite? According to the liner notes, it’s because that’s how they defined themselves. 

Percy Grainger coined the term. There were some characteristic harmonies that this loose group of British composers favored. To him, those harmonies were the sonic equivalent of the Pre-Raphaelites’ use of color.

Given that, my objection to the title went away. And that knowledge also helped me hear the context of this music. Most of the works were written for British cello virtuoso Beatrice Harrison. Her playing helped define the style of the composers who wrote for her. 

This release presents a roster of composers whom Grainger considered Pre-Raphaelite. There is a similarity in style. Most have the late Romantic post-Brahms sound of Charles Villiers Stanford. But it’s mixed with something new. Interest in British folk music was on the rise. Many of these works have modal harmonies and distinctively British melodic turns. 

Adrian Bradbury performs with a clear, warm tone. Many of these works want to sing, and Bradbury’s instrument does so. Listen to his heart-melting performance of Roger Quilter’s “L’Amour de moy.”

Cyrll Scott’s compositions border on Debussy-like Impressionism. I especially recommend “Ballade,” a 12-minute journey of exploration. 

Every track is a well-crafted miniature. And yes, there is a commonality to these works. Highly recommended for the music, the performances and, yes, even the title.

The Pre-Raphaelite Cello
Adrian Bradbury, cello; Andrew West, piano
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0685

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