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.