Joan Ryall and June Clark studied at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music respectively, and latterly together with the late Cyril Smith, one of England’s finest soloists, and duo pianist with his wife Phyllis Sellick. June and Joan made their debut as a piano duo at Bayreuth in Germany, during the famous Wagner Festival in 1958, and began broadcasting for the BBC in 1960.
They have broadcast extensively for the BBC, their programmes on the Overseas Service being relayed to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Mediterranean countries and South East Asia. They gave numerous performances in London, the Provinces, Germany and Holland, and in 1967 their career was capped by winning the First Prize in the International Competition for Interpreters of Contemporary Music in Utrecht and Amsterdam, playing amongst other contemporary works the Stravinsky Concerto, and also winning a further prize for the best performance of a contemporary Dutch work by Louis Andriessen.
Some highlights of their long career included the London revival of the Concerto for two pianos by the Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Arthur Bliss, with the composer himself directing, the Fiftieth Birthday Tribute on the BBC to Benjamin Britten, playing his works for two pianos, and sharing a BBC broadcast with the famous Amadeus Quartet, when two of their members turned the pages for the piano duo!
Some of the many press quotes and letters:
Frankische Press, Bayreuth (1958):
‘…this duo’s debut performances (of works by Poulenc and June Clark) were impressive’
Bayreuther Tagblatt (1958):
…(The Poulenc) was played with masterly precision’
Personal letter from the Daily Telegraph critic, Deryck Cooke, after a ‘Music at Night’ broadcast of the Brahms F minor Sonata: (1962)
‘…a truly wonderful performance of the Brahms….it takes terrific rhythmic power and emotional concentration to bring out all the virility of the music – I never expected to hear it come straight across like that! It was a really thrilling experience!
Ruth Gipps (conductor of the One Rehearsal Orchestra, St.Pancras Journal London(1962)
‘…a beautifully matched two-piano partnership who were trained by Cyril Smith. They made a great impression on me when they rehearsed with the O.R.O. and my respect for their interpretative powers was increased when I heard their fine broadcast performance of the Brahms F minor Sonata’.
Sir Arthur Bliss (composer) (1962):
‘With very many thanks to June Clark and Joan Ryall for their fine playing in my Concerto, from the composer.’
After the performance of the Bliss Concerto for Two Pianos in London ‘The Times’:
‘unquestioning vitality – brilliance – skilful playing.’
Cheltenham Festival, Birmingham Post (1963):
‘Today’s Lunchtime Recital was a brilliant affair: Bach’s C major Concerto, Britten’s Two Pieces and Stravinsky’s Concerto for two solo pianos. Joan Ryall and June Clark are a partnership virtually unfaultable. The performance of the Stravinsky was just about in the Gold-Fizdale class of the composer’s authorised gramophone record – almost as dazzlingly brilliant, and at some points more tellingly phrased. Britten’s ‘Introduction and Rondo alla Burlesca’ and ‘Mazurka Elegiaca’ were both put over with tremendous ‘élan’.
St.Albans Recital, Herts Advertiser (1965):
‘The strength of this duo lies not only in the technical excellence of both players, but also in a complete fusion of musical intention. Brilliant highlights of an evening in which brilliance was almost commonplace ended with the final tour de force, the Lutoslawski Variations. This demonstrated without a shadow of doubt that Joan Ryall and June Clark are in the front rank of piano duos.’
Melton Mowbray ‘Three arts Club’ (1966):
‘…the culmination of the great technical dexterity, accuracy and speed of these two pianists…masterly performance…’
Utrecht’s Niewsblad, translation of fifth round report (1967):
This two-piano duo performed with distinguished quality of tone, superior control and great authority… The Concerto for Two Solo Pianos by Stravinsky was given a joyous and energetic interpretation, playful yet cool and elegant in stature, and with extraordinary virtuosity. The unbelievable affinity between the two artists and their perfect rhythmic playing, without doubt, did much to influence the decision of the jury.’ (Awarded the First Prize)
Letter from the composer, Peter Racine Fricker (1967):
‘A cutting from the Radio Times informed me that you played my two piano Fughettas a short time ago. Very many thanks! I seem to remember that you had won the International Performers Competition in Utrecht. If true, then congratulations – I know how fierce the competition is there because I was one of the judges about three years ago.’
Atkinson Gallery Southport recital, Liverpool Daily Post (1969):
‘Miss Ryall and Miss Clark have achieved remarkable precision, yet there is nothing mechanical about their playing. Complete unanimity of expression and the closest attention to detail are other characteristics and they treat the sustaining pedal with restraint and respect. A delightful recital- my only complaint is that it was not twice as long!’
Southport Visitor (1969):
‘Undoubtedly one of the most gifted duos at present in Britain …of world beating class…their capability in bringing the best out of the most difficult piano duos was fully evident… a recital of such high artistry.’
Ashford Music Club recital, Kentish Express (1969):
‘Joan Ryall and June Clark played throughout with polish and sensitivity… especially effective in quieter passages where their timing and phrasing were very good. (They then) took wing and made a very fine job indeed of the Rachmaninov Second Suite…and a well chosen encore (Walton’s Popular Song from Façade) showed how adept and witty their playing could be.’
Kent Messenger (1969):
‘…a sense of rhythm and tonal balance … a knack of imperceptible communication that the two players have developed…flawless ensemble…technical facility displayed to greatest effect in the most brilliant parts of Milhaud’s ‘Scaramouche Suite’ and Rachmaninov’s Suite. This most extended and pianistic work called for interpretative skill and musicianship. The relaxed style of the Walton gave the programme a touch of humour’.
In 1970 the duo retired from the public platform for almost a decade due to family commitments and raising of offspring, but made a welcome comeback in 1979.
Herts Advertiser, Nicolas Cranley’s Music Diary (1980)
Finally, no survey would be complete without mentioning the resurrection of the superb piano team, June Clark and Joan Ryall. I knew them by reputation last year, though for some reason I had missed them perform…and was only able to hear a snatch of one evening. But both that and the record that they brought out was a revelation – I have rarely heard music for two pianos played with such fire and precision.’
After a further ten years of playing together the duo came to an abrupt end in 1990 with the accidental death of Joan Ryall, so this LP recording is a unique commemoration of a long duo partnership. There are however many taped recordings in the archives of this duo, which are intended to be remastered and issued on CDs. So watch this space for updates!