“Morgen” – pianist Rae de Lisle makes a welcome return to performing, with ‘cellist Andrew Joyce – and with help from Julia Joyce

Songs for ‘Cello and Piano
Andrew Joyce (‘cello)
Rae de Lisle (piano)

items marked * with Julia Joyce (viola)

BRAHMS : Liebestreu Op3, No.1 / Minnelied Op.71, No.5 / “Immer leise wird mein Schlummer Op.105 No.2
“Wie melodien zieht es mir leise durch den Sinn” Op.105, No.1 / Sapphische Ode Op.94 No.4
Feldeinsamkeit Op.86 No.2 / Wiegenlied Op.49 No.4
DVORAK: Als die alte Mutter Op.55 No.4 / Lass mich allein Op.82 No.1
REYNALDO HAHN – L’heure exquise / A Chloris    FAURE – Apres un reve Op.7 No.1
SCHUMANN – Widmung Op.25, No.1 / Du bist wie eine Blume Op.25 No.4 / Mondnacht Op.39 No.5
BRAHMS – Zwei Gesange Op.91 – *Gestillte Sehnsucht / *Geistliches Wiegenlied
ERICH KORNGOLD – Marietta’s Lied – “Gluck, das mir verblieb”
SCHUBERT – Du Bist die Ruh Op.59 No.3 / Nacht und Traume Op.43 No.2
ALFREDO CATALANI – Ebben? Ne andro lontana / RICHARD STRAUSS – *Morgen  Op.27 No.4

Atoll Records  ACD 280

This recording has gone to the top of my “play for friends” list!  The beauty and expressiveness of it all instantly captivates whomever I demonstrate the disc to, and never fails to re-ignite my own initial struck-dumb response  – beginning as a “double distillation” of beauty, with Andrew Joyce’s ‘cello and Rae de Lisle’s piano exquisitely duetting their way through vistas of the utmost enchantment, it transforms into a trio when a fellow-traveller, violist Julia Joyce briefly joins the pair for an equally rhapsodic mid-journey sojourn, and then reunites with them right at the end. The recording is, of course, a “family affair”, cellist’ Andrew Joyce being the son-in-law of pianist Rae de Lisle, and violist Julia Joyce her daughter, and the ‘cellist’s partner – whether as a duo or a trio, their combination, on the strength of this recording, produces for this listener an unforgettable amalgam of artistry and feeling.

For pianist Rae de Lisle, this album has meant something of a “return to life” as a performer, having over the past quarter-century been in retirement through injury from her previous career as a successful concert pianist – though never having heard her play “live” I well recall a series of television programmes from around the 1970s featuring her as the soloist in a number of presentations of Beethoven piano concertos, recorded in those halcyon days when people in charge of New Zealand television regarded the arts as a necessary component of what went to air to the public. De Lisle, of course, subsequently became one of the crucial figures involved with fellow-pianist Michael Houstoun’s rehabilitation as a performer after the latter suffered similar injuries, helping him “remodel” his piano technique to a point where he was able to return to public playing. She herself describes in a personal note something of her own process of dealing with injury and her painstaking “retraining” to the point where she could actually make music again, and of her immense joy in being able to collaborate with the talented musicians in her own family!

What was indubitably given to her many piano students over the years of her indisposition poignantly “mirrors” the loss experienced by us in having the quality of pianism such as can be heard on this new CD cruelly denied us over the years. In the course of listening to these treasurable tracks, one readily appreciates – in fact, right from the disc’s beginning (featuring a group of Brahms’ songs given an eloquent introduction with Liebestreu Op.3 No. 1,) – how the “line” of lyrical expression is so unerringly shaped by both instruments, with the piano preparing the ground for the ‘cello in so many subtle ways, in the course of a handful of phrases suggesting and then leading, shaping the way forward and then echoing the fulfilment by the ‘cello of the music’s expressive quality. This piece epitomises the creative interplay at work in so many varied ways throughout the rest of the disc, as does the succeeding Minnelied Op,71 No. 5, demonstrating such exquisite sensibility from both players as to bring tears to the eyes of those susceptible to such things!

Both of the Dvořák settings are “lump-in-the-throat” affairs as realised here, de Lisle bringing out the music’s astringent quality of reminiscence in the piano’s opening to Als die alte Mutter Op 55 No.4, which so sharpens the sensibilities for the hushed quality of what follows, with Joyce’s ‘cello tone fusing the voice of the “mother” with that of the narrator, as the vocal line catches an individual accent or phrase which rivets the attention. And the gentle melancholy of Lasst mich allein Op.82 No.1 speaks volumes in the subtlety with which the minor key-shift deepens the emotion.

There’s insufficient space in which to comment on all of the tracks – but their characterisations by these two artists readily transport the listener into what Robert Schumann called “wondrous regions”, with Schumann’s own music ready to illustrate these magical excursions – the central, beautifully half-lit sequence at the centre of Widmung Op.25 No. 1, for example, followed by a beautifully rapt Du bist wie eine Blume Op.25 No.24, and the more extended, equally hypnotic Mondnacht Op.39 No.5. And, of course, there’s a brief but telling augmented strand contributing its own resonance to the proceedings, in the form of Julia Joyce’s viola, adding its wholly distinctive voice to those of the ‘cello-and-piano duo, in a pair of songs composed by Brahms for the violinist Joseph Joachim, the Zwei Gesange Op.91. The reprise of the first song is a particularly melting sequence, the viola and ‘cello duetting in counterpoint with rapturous accord, while the brighter-eyed setting of the carol “Joseph Lieber, Joseph mein” imparts a warmly ritualistic aspect to the musical collaboration, by turns full-throated and gently reassuring.

I ought to mention Andrew Joyce’s astonishingly candid realisation of Korngold’s Marietta’s Lied, from the opera Die tote Stadt during which his instrument sings the vocal lines with almost unbearable emotion, “inhabiting” the intensity of characterisation that the music suggests so readily. The disc ends, somewhat less fraughtfully, with another stellar display of string-playing, Julia Joyce’s viola substituting for the usual violin in Richard Strauss’s Morgen Op.27 No.4, the combination triumphantly expressing the essential flavour of the composer’s regard for the voice and his love for his wife, Pauline, in a new day’s blessed context.

Beautifully-balanced, warm and clear recorded sound completes a most attractive issue from “Atoll”.