Ashton: Cello Music, Volume 1
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Algernon Ashton: Music for Cello and Piano, Volume One

Catalogue Number: TOCC0143
EAN: 5060113441430
Release Date: 29 October 2012
Duration: 67:53

Arioso, Op. 43
Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 6
Phantasiestücke, Op. 12
Sonata No. 2 in G major, Op. 75

Evva Mizerska, cello
Emma Abbate, piano

Algernon Ashton, born in Durham in 1859, is one of the best-kept secrets in British music, with a generous output of piano music, chamber works and songs. Rutland Boughton wrote that he ‘seems to pour out great musical thought as easily as the lark trills its delight in cloudland’: although Ashton’s writing for both cello and piano is virtuosic, what strikes the ear is the quality of his melodic inspiration – the lyrical immediacy of his tunes suggests Schubert, set in a style of Brahmsian richness.

Booklet texts   (PDF)

Track Listing, MP3 Downloads and Streaming Samples

Track No. Track Title / Details Duration Sample Add to Cart
1 Arioso, Op. 43 (publ. 1889)

Algernon Ashton, composer
Evva Mizerska, cello
Emma Abbate, piano

(first recording)
7:15 play
2-4 Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 6 (publ. 1880)

Algernon Ashton, composer
Evva Mizerska, cello
Emma Abbate, piano

(first recording)
2 I Allegro appassionato 10:25 play
3 II Larghetto 5:57 play
4 III Finale. Allegro frescamente 6:13 play
5-7 Phantasiestücke, Op. 12 (publ. 1883)

Algernon Ashton, composer
Evva Mizerska, cello
Emma Abbate, piano

(first recording)
5 No. 1 Moderato 4:31 play
6 No. 2 Andantino con gran espressione 4:11 play
7 No. 3 Allegro scherzando 3:40 play
8-10 Sonata No. 2 in G major, Op. 75 (1885)

Algernon Ashton, composer
Evva Mizerska, cello
Emma Abbate, piano

(first recording)
8 I Allegro moderato 9:28 play
9 II Adagio, ma non troppo 6:43 play
10 III Finale. Allegro animato 9:30 play


Algernon Ashton

Algernon Ashton, composer
[credit: © Royal College of Music]

Evva Mizerska

Evva Mizerska, cello

Emma Abbate

Emma Abbate, piano


Audiophile Best Find

Algernon was a highly prolific composer with published works running up to 174 opus numbers plus many others in manuscript form. Unfortunately the latter were probably destroyed when his house was hit by German incendiary bombs during the London Blitz (1940–41). That loss seems all the greater considering the quality of the pieces for cello and piano included here. All are world premiere recordings. […]

The program opens with an occasional piece entitled Arioso (publ. 1889). This begins in aria fashion with a couple of lovely themes that are melodically transformed throughout the work. In the process the cello part pretty much spans the instrument’s range, and there’s a harmonic adventurousness that anticipates the late romantic. There’s also an informality about it which gainsays Ashton’s German training and makes it more of an English pastorale.

That’s certainly not the case with the next piece, which is his first cello sonata (publ. 1880). In three movements it’s a rigorously structured work that stands comparison with Richard Strauss’ (1864–1949) chamber music. The initial sonata form moderato has two thematic groups that are skillfully developed. These are then recapitulated with some minor alterations, and the movement ends in a fiery coda.

A couple of attractive ideas alternate with each other in the beautiful larghetto. There’s a simplicity worthy of Schubert (1797–1828) in this introspective movement, which couldn’t be more different from the whimsical finale.

This opens with a bounding tune (BT) followed by a related more lyrical melody. A whimsical development that includes some humorous false fugal starts follows, and then the sonata ends with a saucy reprise of BT.

The following Phantasiestücke (publ. 1883) is a set of three short individual pieces. The first marked moderato begins with three motifs that are gently falling, aria–like and playful. It then concludes with a developmental recap of them. The next andantino is a melancholy instrumental dialogue, while the last allegro is a perky scherzo of folkish persuasion looking forward to Percy Grainger’s (1882–1961) rambles.

The CD is filled out with the second sonata (publ. 1885), which is in three movements like the first, but a much more advanced undertaking. That’s obvious from the start of the initial sonata form allegro, whose opening statement is a complex exchange of motifs between cello and piano. The agitated development that follows is harmonically impish to the point of introducing the recapitulation in the wrong key. But order is soon restored as the music returns to the sonata’s tonic of G major, and concludes in an exciting coda with a ‘So there!’ ending.

The introspective adagio [track 9] has three main subjects which might best be described as a lament [00:01], chorale [01:21], and cavatina [01:47]. They undergo some thematic transformations, and are sequentially recapped but with the third returning in a minor key. This ends the movement somewhat ambivalently.

The finale begins with the cello playing a chortling tune followed by a phrase hinting at the sonata’s opening measures. After some further elaboration it states a childlike idea, which undergoes a rondoesque development along with the other previous material. Another one of those deceptive Ashton recapitulations follows where the tonic isn’t reinstated until the last minute. And then the sonata ends exuberantly with final reference to the movement’s opening bars.

Polish cellist Evva Mizerska and Italian pianist Emma Abbate, known collectively as the Evva&Emma Duo, make a strong case for Ashton’s music. He was an accomplished pianist himself, and it shows in these challenging scores, which our artists handle with great aplomb. They have technical ability to spare, and their playing ranges from sensitively shaded in more melodic passages to virtuosically supercharged when the notes start flying thick and fast.

Made at the Challow Park Studios in Oxfordshire, England, the recordings project a narrowly focused soundstage in a pleasing acoustic. Depending on your speaker placement, some may feel the sonic image would have benefitted from a greater sense of space between the artists. Be that as it may, both instruments are beautifully captured. The cello tone is rich and natural across its entire range. The piano is well rounded with no sign of any digital nasties, however the keyboard action is a little noisy in the second sonata [tracks 8 through 10]. Other than that this disc easily qualifies as an audiophile release.

Bob McQuiston Classical Lost and Found 12th December 2012

Played with great technical address and skill

[…] As one has grown to expect the production of this Toccata Classics disc is first rate. Excellent musical and technical values backed up by a liner of superb interest written by the ever insightful and dependable Malcolm MacDonald. I have not encountered the playing of either cellist Evva Mizerska or pianist Emma Abbate before. They are an established duo and play with great technical address and skill – indeed I cannot imagine a more convincing case being made for this music. […] the sound is rich and full with Ashton’s complex writing registering clearly and with maximum impact.

Nick Barnard MusicWeb International December 2012


2 comments – add a comment

Hrm. i think the 1889 date for the Arioso is a composition date from Musicweb, and publication date of the earliest edition I know of is 1891- though "(that) I know of" is key there (1891 is the date on the Simrock edition at IMSLP.) A slight gripe about the documentation of what I hope is the beginning of a fine project; he seems to have written some very interesting chamber music (I hope some of his now lost music, mentioned in a worklist published while he was alive, might actually turn up too, but... well. :( Apparently gone between bombings in Germany that (inter alia, inter alia) destroyed the plates and stocks of many a publisher, and the Blitz in Britain I gather, or something. Ack.)

Eric Schissel 2 November 2013

This is delightfully warm-hearted music: big-boned, but never feeling heavy or over-complicated.

Ashton's lyrical gift is undeniable in these works, the cello's beautiful melodies whispering, then soaring over equally lyrical (and demanding) piano writing at its best.

The composer's artistic heritage and influences are there, yes, but much more apparent is his individuality. The works never sound particularly Germanic to my ears and there are delicious, almost impressionistic twists of harmony and melody here and there that really shine out.

Mizerska and Abbate give a welcome, enthusiastic and persuasive account of this neglected repertoire. Their partnership is a perfectly complementary one, which gives one real satisfaction in knowing that their future, and that of the neglected repertoire, is bright, both from the viewpoint of a duo and of individual artists.

The recorded sound is excellent: warm and atmospheric; not too close; and the instrumental balance is spot on.

If this is just volume 1, I eagerly await subsequent releases.

Seth Blacklock 19 March 2013