We’ve been raving for some time about a superb performance of The Seal Man that’s running on BBC Radio 3 through November 29, and now—thanks to our new friends at BBC Northern Ireland and at Northern Ireland Opera, and by kind permission of the artists—we can bring it to you on a continuing basis. You can find it on an Audio page that we’ve just created for recordings of exceptional interpretive value or historical importance that are not available for purchase.

(Our running chronicle of commercial releases on CD, vinyl, and download platforms continues under the handle Discography—and if anyone has a more technopropriate collective noun, please let us know.)

The Seal Man is a defining work in the Clarke canon, and James Newby, one of Britain’s rising-star baritones, and Simon Lepper, one of the world’s finest collaborative pianists, put it over as if it were this morning’s breaking news, with every syllable bursting with feeling and intent. There’s nothing showy or stagey about it—it’s just a strange, beautiful, riveting tale, perfectly told, and if it doesn’t make the hair rise on the back of your neck, then you have no soul and I pity you.

Simplicity of means, clarity of gesture, and absolute truthfulness of expression are the hallmarks of Clarke’s style, and this gives her works emotional power and lasting impact without need of large forms, multiple movements, or vast amounts of time. She would never have claimed greatness for herself, let alone greatness on a par with Wagner or her idol Debussy, but the fact remains that Tristan takes about five hours to destroy your heart, and Pelléas needs nearly three, but The Seal Man gets the job done in only five minutes.

The piece is popping up everywhere these days—three of the most extraordinary recent performances are on our Video page—but Newby and Lepper seem uniquely attuned to everything we know about Clarke’s own performance-style, and the styles of the singers and pianists she valued most highly. Their work on The Seal Man is exemplary. Enjoy.

Simon Lepper (l) and James Newby (r)

What with all the recent drama, both political and COVID-related, we’ve barely had time to keep up with concurrent musical activity, so let’s strap on our snazzy Rebecca Clarke masks from Arty Margit, and see what’s going on.

Now through November 29: BBC Radio 3’s broadcast from Northern Ireland Opera Festival of Voice 2020 turned out to be a total wow, with one of the best performances of The Seal Man ever, by baritone James Newby and pianist Simon Lepper. The Seal Man starts at the 3:20 mark, but you owe it to yourself to listen to the entire opening group, to texts by John Masefield—if you don’t listen to the entire program, which you should, so there.

Now through November 29: The Gould Piano Trio’s performance of Clarke’s Trio at Wigmore Hall also turned out to be an absolute high-point. This is one of those pieces that needs to be seen as well as heard, and the Hall’s visual production is on the same high level as the Goulds’ playing. Details of the webcast, and of the Goulds’ just-released audio-recording—both of which are highly recommended—are on our Shop page.

November 15: Baltimore’s venerable Chamber Music by Candlelight series presents Clarke’s spectacular “duo concertante” Dumka, performed by Kevin Smith, violin, and Colin Sorgi, viola, both of the Baltimore Symphony, with Daniel Pesca, piano, as part of a demanding program that also includes Gabriela Lena Frank’s Tres Homenajes: Compadrazgo, for piano quintet, and Smetana’s string quartet “From My Life”. The current edition of Grove’s Dictionary suggests that Dumka was something of a parlor-piece, when, in fact, it ought to come with a strong warning: “PROFESSIONAL PLAYERS ON CLOSED COURSE. DO NOT ATTEMPT AT HOME.” The burn starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (check here for your local equivalent), and continues through December 15.

November 15: The Endler Concert Series at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University presents Lynn Rudolph and José Dias in a nifty program that features Clarke’s Viola Sonata, and works by Bach, Nadia Boulanger, and Hendrik Hofmeyr (details here). The video debuts at 4:00 p.m. South African Standard Time (check here for your local equivalent) and remains available until November 22.

December 8: Clarke’s Sonata also headlines a concert in Wigmore Hall’s terrific new Live Stream Series, 95 years after the composer herself presented it there, but this time with Natalie Clein and Cédric Pescia performing Clarke’s version for cello, a carefully-considered freestanding work—not just a transcription—that amply bears out one of Clarke’s most perceptive contemporaneous critics, who assigned the Sonata “a foremost place among the best written for ‘cello and piano.” The program debuts at 7:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (check here for your local equivalent) and remains available through January 7, 2021. Sign-in required, donation requested, and well worth it.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stream Clarke.

Apart from this month’s out-of-the-blue Binnorie-boomlet, there’s a sudden Comodo e amabile-crush, which only goes to show how easy it is to say, “Oh! That deserves to be published!”—usually at someone else’s expense, by dint of someone else’s labor—and how hard it is, and how long it takes, to get a new piece going in the concert repertoire.

I’ve already descanted on Binnorie (composed around 1942, discovered 1997, published 2002), now available in a mind-boggling performance from the BBC, and coming up in a pre-Halloween program of thrillers from Boston (links to both events here, and a video of the latter being kitchen-tested, quite literally, here), but the string quartet pieces (composed 1924-26, possibly revised around 1976, published 2004) are suddenly popping up everywhere, too, first in Quatuor Sine Qua Non’s fabulous new CD (details here), and now in online concerts from the Santa Fe Symphony (October 25) and the Boise Philharmonic (November 7), both of which feature Comodo e amabile in fascinating company.

Picking up another recent surprise-development in Clarke programming, there’s a lovely pair of of songs—Shy One and The Cloths of Heaven—transcribed for viola and piano in this installment of the International Music Foundation’s Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts, in Chicago, beginning at 25:45.

This evening, San Francisco’s Old First Concerts presents Morpheus and Passacaglia on an Old English Tune alongside pieces by Bridge and Bax that Clarke played regularly in concert, while Omaha’s Countryside Community Church offers a new version of Joanna Goldstein’s widely-acclaimed “Nasty Women” program, featuring Morpheus. Both events have made use of the latest, not-yet-published research, so be prepared for surprises.

Beginning October 30, BBC Radio 3 offers a recital from Northern Ireland Opera’s Festival of Voice 2020, recorded in Belfast, featuring Clarke’s The Seal Man as the centerpiece of an imaginative group of John Masefield settings, flanked by Ireland’s Sea Fever and Keel’s Three Salt Water Ballads.

And finally (for now), the Endler Concert Series, at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, presents Lynn Rudolph and José Dias in Clarke’s Viola Sonata, on November 15.

Leave it never be said that we are not geographically well-distributed. Antarctica hasn’t weighed in yet, but that could always change. Stay tuned.

Nearly eighty years after its composition, and eighteen years after publication, Clarke’s Binnorie: A Ballad has just received what I believe to be its first broadcast performance, and what is certainly its first recorded performance in any medium available to the general public, and it is stunning—the piece as well as the performance. I won’t tell you any more, apart from the basic facts: the performers are Lorna Anderson, soprano, and Malcolm Martineau, piano, and you cannot do better than that; the production is by BBC Radio 3; and Binnorie comes just after the 35:00 mark, as the grand climax of a magnificent program.

The text, as Clarke set it, is here. The piece is more than two Liebestods long, and at least five times as intense, so you will need a minimum of sixteen minutes without interruption: close the door, shush your companions, turn off your devices, and allow ample time to recover, even after the presenter realizes that she’s still got a radio-show to finish and breaks her long, shocked silence. Also be prepared to abandon any illusion that you may still be harboring, to the effect that Rebecca Clarke was in any way ambivalent about asserting or expressing herself. This is surely the masterpiece among Clarke’s vocal works, and fully the equal of any of her larger instrumental works, and she does not hold back.

The program is available through November 13, 2020, and we’re hondling the BBC to perpetuate it. In the meantime, on October 27, you get another crack at Binnorie in an entirely different context, in Heather Gallagher’s video performance on Sparrow Live (details here). Either way, it’s taken all these years for this great piece to find its feet, and now that it has, don’t postpone…. well, joy isn’t the right word, but whatever it is, don’t wait.

John Faed; The Cruel Sister. Bury Art Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-cruel-sister-164136

This season’s de-facto pan-European Clarke festival takes a slight breather before plunging into November and December’s full-tilt Clarkeapalooza, of which more later. Still, autumn hath its charms, and Clarke continues to find herself in interesting company.

[Apart from the first item, which you can enjoy while sheltering at home, any or all of these events may or may not happen as planned, depending on COVID-19, so check availability and local public-health requirements before setting out.]

September 10: Brexit, schmexit—the BBC is still a global operation, and Clarke was one of its earliest ornaments, so we feel no compunction whatsoever in including it as a way-station on her current Grand Tour, especially as she shuttles through under cover of darkness, at 4:04 a.m. British Summer Time (check here for your local equivalent), in the form of a rebroadcast of Elizabeth Watts and Paul Turner‘s performance of A Dream, Eight O’clock, Down by the Salley Gardens, and Greeting, from back in 2008, when Watts and Turner were members of Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme, and not the firmly established figures they are today. The program will be available on demand through October 8.

September 20: Les Vacances de Monsieur Haydn, or “Mr. Haydn’s Vacation”—surely Europe’s most charmingly-named music-festival (tip of the hat to Jacques Tati), and the one with the coolest logo—gives Clarke’s Trio an outing at the Cinéma le Kerlouet, in La Roche-Posay, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. It sounds like a terrific program, also featuring Mr. Haydn’s Opus 76, No. 5, Mr. Mozart’s Sonata, K. 15, and Mr. Lucas Debargue’s Mélodies sur des poèmes de Baudelaire pour mezzo-soprano et piano, with the exciting (and still controversial) Mr. Debargue himself anchoring the proceedings at the piano.

September 22: Sweden’s acclaimed Malmö SymfoniOrkester kicks off its 2020-21 chamber-music series with a program featuring Clarke’s Morpheus and Passacaglia on an Old English Tune, performed by co-principal violist Gunnar Jedvik and pianist Jan Karlsson Korp. The concert also includes Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83, and Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” trio, with Jedvik, Korp, and clarinetist Anders Eriksson.

October 16: A mere 596 kilometers up the road from Malmö—it’s a big country—mezzo-soprano Emelie Thoor and pianist Olga Tomilina perform Clarke’s The Cloths of Heaven and Down by the Salley Gardens, in a lunchtime concert at the Konserthus recital hall in Västerås. The bill of fare includes songs by Alma Mahler, Amy Beach, and Richard Strauss, and a premiere by Joel Engström, whose rhythmic panache Clarke would have admired (not to mention those smoking glissandi!). Tickets and mouth-watering restaurant-reservations may be had here.

October 20: The tenth-anniversary season of Festival Présences Féminines offers a fascinating program by violist Isabel Villanueva and pianist François Dumont, at the Musée National de la Marine, in Toulon, France. In addition to Clarke’s « très belle sonate pour alto et piano » the program includes works by three living composers: Édith Canat de Chizy’s En bleu et or, Dobrinka Tabakova’s Suite en jazz style, and the world premiere of Golfram Khayam’s Ritornello pour alto seul.

Eighty to one hundred years after their composition, it’s striking how often—and how naturally and comfortably—Clarke’s pieces sit alongside the latest and the freshest, from whatever part of the world. Debargue and Engström are just thirty years old, Tabakova and Khayam are not much older, and Canat de Chizy is « un poulet de l’année » next to Clarke, who just turned 134. Quite a ride. She would have loved it. Stay tuned.

On BBC Radio 3’s Record Review next weekend, host Andrew McGregor and Natasha Loges, Head of Postgraduate Programmes and Reader in Musicology at the Royal College of Music, will name five indispensable recordings by Rebecca Clarke, Lili Boulanger, Caterina Assandra, Fanny Mendelssohn, and a mystery-composer yet to be announced, and explain why you need to hear them. The program airs on Saturday, August 15, 2020, at 9:00 a.m. British Summer Time, and becomes available for streaming around noontime that same day (check here for your local equivalents).

We won’t know the repertoire until then, apart from the fact that Clarke will be represented by the Trio—plenty of rich possibilities there! Clarke, Mendelssohn, and Boulanger need no introduction, of course, but if Assandra’s name is the least bit unfamiliar to you, you ought to seize this opportunity to experience her exquisite concertato-style motets.

The program will be available for streaming-on-demand through Friday, September 18. Enjoy!

[Update: The mystery-composer turned out to be Minna Keal, and the indispensable recording of Clarke’s Trio was Chandos’s 2019 release by the Neave Trio. The other parts of the program were fascinating, too, in part because George Crumb’s delicious take on Chagall’s “The Painter,” from Metamorphoses (Book I): Ten Fantasy Pieces (after celebrated paintings) for amplified piano, composed just the other day, suggests that the world may finally have caught up with Rebecca Clarke’s extraordinary piano-writing. The section about Clarke begins at 1:06:30.]