There is an ever present danger of confusing William Lloyd Webber with his sons – Julian and Andrew. Please don’t. William is one of the ‘hidden treasures’ of English music. Most of his works have been issued on CD and are largely available as either new, as MP3 downloads or in second hand record shops.
William Lloyd Webber was ever a conservative composer, refusing to fall victim of the prevailing trends and fads of musical composition. His music is always completely approachable and enjoyable. Often the sheer lyricism is quite moving. The referential markers would surely be Delius, Elgar and even Rachmaninoff. Yet he was a miniaturist – few of his works are longer than ten minutes.
In 1960 Lloyd Webber wrote a series of six Country Impressions for a variety of wind instruments with piano accompaniment. Unfortunately only two of them have been recorded – Frensham Pond and Mulberry Cottage. It is a small desideratum of English music that some one will issue the entire series.
Mulberry Cottage is quite simple gorgeous. It appears so simple in its exposition of a straight forward melody. Yet this simplicity is perhaps deceptive: there is a subtlety here that calls for considerable expertise in interpretation. It would be so easy to spoil the perfect balance of soloist and accompanist.
Frensham Pond is one of the loveliest pieces that Lloyd Webber wrote. Even the title of this little piece for clarinet and piano will inspire the lover of English music. Of course Frensham itself is down near Farnham and is now a beautiful mix of woodland, heath and water. It is small wonder that Lloyd Webber was attracted to this. Yet this is no rambling pastoral piece. It is controlled, economical and straight to the point.
Julian Lloyd Webber told me that both of pieces were suggested by places that his father knew and loved. Mulberry Cottage was a home that he had hired for a holiday. Julian added that, “like so many of that generation of British composers he was often inspired by specific places or parts of the countryside.’
For reference the complete suite is as follows:-
Country Impressions – for wind instruments with piano accompaniment
Mulberry Cottage: (Tone Picture): flute and piano
The Woods at Penn: (Pastoral) for oboe and piano
Frensham Pond: (Aquarelle) for clarinet and piano
Northington Farm: (Rustic Rondino) for bassoon and piano
Summer Pastures: (Friesian Elegy) for Horn and piano
Castle Hedingham (Galliard) for trumpet and piano
Recently Naxos has released and excellent recording of Frensham Ponds on a compilation of clarinet and piano music. The only drawback is the programme note for this work is virtually non-existent. In the late 1990s Hyperion issued a retrospective of the composer’s piano music, chamber works and songs – it included both pieces.