violin duo

Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo, violins

Philippa and Harriet met at the Royal Academy of Music, London and discovered a shared passion for contemporary music as well as the wealth of rarely heard repertoire for two violins. Since they started performing together they have given recitals at the Barbican Centre as part of the Park Lane Young Artists Series in the Mostly Mozart Festival, LSO St Luke’s, Jersey Liberation Music Festival, Goldsmith’s Centre for Russian Music, Bedford Park Festival, West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge, and the 2D2N International Festival of Contemporary Music in Odessa, Ukraine where Retorica performed seven new commissions by leading British composers.

In 2011, Retorica completed a successful tour of China giving concerts in five cities including recitals at the major concert halls in Beijing (NCPA) and Shanghai (SHAOC) supported by the couture designer Hiroko Koshino and the Tillett Trust. Retorica were also Artists in Residence at the Presteigne Festival 2012 both in recital and concerto performances, which included a performance of Paul Patterson’s double violin concerto and a new commission by Cecilia McDowall. Composers who have written and dedicated music to the duo include Dmitri Smirnov, Sadie Harrison, Robert Fokkens and Ben Ellin.

In 2012, Retorica recorded John McCabe’s double concerto Les Martinets Noirs with Orchestra Nova, conducted by George Vass, for the Dutton label.

Image Credit: 
Ben McMillan
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Philippa Mo & Harriet Mackenzie, violins


Inspired by their friendships with composers John McCabe and David Matthews, Retorica's debut album features English violin duos: Moeran's Sonata and Rawsthorne's Theme and Variations contrast with new works from McCabe, Matthews and Jim Aitchison - plus a 17th-century Sonata from William Croft.



'Superbly responsive playing by Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo who project the music's often intricate contrapuntal interweaving with faultless technique and unfailing insight. An auspicious release from Retorica ...I hope that more will follow' Gramophone

'Music at once individual, fresh, interesting, and varied' International Record Review

‘Rawsthorne’s scores remain undervalued and underperformed, certainly in regard to their considerable worth’ Colin Anderson’ IRR

‘The performances by Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo, the duo of Retorica, seem exemplary, the sound is excellent and the annotation includes notes written by the living composers’ Colin Anderson, IRR

'Bach and other composers show how much can be done with a solo violin, so it is no surprise that the violin duo, seemingly a convenience of the instrumental lesson, can yield the riches vividly displayed by Retorica. EJ Moeran's Sonata is a substantial essay, pastorally flavoured, with a  dazzling central presto. John McCabe's Spielend, like David Matthews's Eight Duos, Op 79, were specially commissioned and come over strongly. There's a rare, buoyant 18th-century Sonata by William Croft, but best of all is the Theme and Variations (1937), by Alan Rawsthorne,a hidden-away but patent little masterpiece.' The Sunday Times

'Retorica brings admirable lucidity to the complex intertwining of the two instruments ... they play a dangerous game of testing each other's virtuosity.' The Strad

'It is clear that [Retorica] not only understand the subtleties of the music they are playing but they want to ‘wow’ you into loving it as much as they do. In this they totally succeed.' Composition Today

‘David Matthew’s Eight Duos provides a short sequence of brilliant, pictorial miniatures. Church bells ring out on pizzicato notes, and the English pastoral tradition is invoked. All so cunningly, cleverly written. Performances are uniformly excellent’ The Arts Desk

‘Interesting and unusual recital. They play with plenty of assurance and dash, and are recorded in vivid sound(in an airy). Moeran’s sonata and Rawsthorne’s Theme and variations- both works I’ve never seen recorded before-are for me the high points of Retorica’s program, combining superb craft and shapely formal logic with idiomatic and imaginative use of instruments and nuanced, poignant, expressive power. They are more than enough reason to buy this collection’  American Record Guide

‘the record strikes an excellent balance: it is both intimate but with sufficient acoustic spaciousness for the music to feel full’ Composition Today

‘This smart pair delivers well constructed and varied program…There’s much to admire in the work’s modes, long pedals, whispering effects and boisterous fiddling’ La Folia


Gramophone Choice (April 2013)


This recording has been supported by the RVW, John Ireland and Rawsthorne Trusts.


Recorded 4-5 and 15-16 February 2010 at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk

Sound Engineer and Editor PETER NEWBLE

Cover Image JOANNA BRENDON MBE, Rockpool No.1 (mixed media)
Graphic Design FRANCOIS HALL

® 2012 NMC Recordings Ltd
© 2012 NMC Recordings Ltd

Faber Music
Boosey & Hawkes
Oxford University Press
Catalogue number:
NMC D182
Release Date:
3 September 2012