Sunday, 26 April 2009

Parry, Sterndale Bennett & Best: Piano Music

English Piano Works William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) Sonata in F minor Op.13 (c.1837) William Thomas Best (1826-1897) Grande Mouvement de Danse: Polka Originale Op.4 (1847); Romanesca Op.16 (1854) Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) Shulbrede Tunes (1911-1914)
Simon Callaghan (piano) DE RODE POMP RP/GMA 069/073

I recently had the privilege of reviewing this impressive recital of English piano music by Simon Callaghan. I began by “Coming straight to the point, this CD is an essential purchase for all enthusiasts of British piano music. Contrary to what some people might suggest, the two main works on this disc are minor masterpieces – they both move and entertain. Furthermore, the two ‘salon’ pieces by William Thomas Best also deserve our notice. One can ask nothing more from a CD. Add to this, the stunning playing by Simon Callaghan, the superb quality of the recording and the informed programme notes; there is little else I can say other than, “Buy it”!

After discussing the fine Sonata in F minor by Sterndale Bennett and the two pieces I turned my attention to the Parry’s Shulbrede Tunes which is “work that I have had a long relationship with. I remember finding a rather dusty ‘new’ copy of this work in a Glasgow music shop. I guess that it was the eye-catching picture of Shulbrede Priory on the cover that caught my eye. Additionally, for a young romantic, the fact that one of the pieces was called ‘Elizabeth’ was an attraction: at that time I was rather keen on a girl of the same name. In fact, I even made an orchestral transcription of this piece and dedicated it to her. Thank goodness it was never played by the school orchestra …
Over the years I have come to consider the Shulbrede Tunes as a valuable addition to the music of the 20th century. However, I have come across people who would deny Parry the honour of having composed anything worth playing in our time, far less something deserving an accolade. The ‘unbiased’ truth is that the Shulbrede Tunes is to Parry as the Wand of Youth Suites are to Elgar: youth and leisure and pleasure reflected on in the relative tranquillity and wisdom of middle age. I concluded my review by suggesting that “For anyone who loves the music of Parry this is a suite of pieces that is both charming and often quite moving. It is well written, enjoyable to play, subtly descriptive and well-balanced. Shulbrede Tunes is a picture of a personalised country landscape and a family situation to which many aspire but few attain.

Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

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