Monday, 23 April 2012

Francis Edward Bache (1833-1858) was a pupil of Willam Sterndale Bennett. These two composers have very different biographies but were similar in their music and in the reception accorded to it. Common wisdom suggests that Sterndale Bennett’s compositional career peaked early on and a life spent teaching music did not allow him to repeat his youthful triumphs. Bache on the other hand quite simply showed great promise and then died early – from tuberculosis. Bache may not have been in thrall to Sterndale Bennett’s musical ethos, but it was certainly influential.

There is quite a large body of work by Bache in existence including some three piano concertos. Yet little reference is made to these compositions in musical literature: Bache’s sister Constance does not discuss this work or the other concerted pieces in her biography of the composer. 
He is usually remembered - if at all - for his Songs Op.16. One teasing anecdote about the composer is that as part of his convalescence he went to live in Torbay. Whilst there he wrote two sets of Souvenirs based on musings from his peregrinations – à la Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage. One, hardly surprisingly, describes Italy but the other looks odd in print – Souvenirs de Torquay! Surely a desideratum for all enthusiasts of English piano music! 

In his three movement Piano Concerto in E major Op.18 we have an excellent work – certainly no-one would claim that it was an essay of enormous originality or that the composer aspired to great genius. But the work has what it takes. It is full of interest, charm and fine pianism and most important of all – lovely tunes. I could not help thinking about the music from Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas as I listened to this work - especially the faster themes. That may put some people off this work – but all I mean to imply by the comparison is that Bache has such a fund of invention for his melodies. And, like the later Sullivan, they sparkle! It is easy to see references to his teacher, Sterndale Bennett, but it is the meditative or reflective nature of much of this music that leads me to rate this concerto so highly. It well balances exuberance and contemplation: it inspires and it moves – what more can a listener ask? 
Francis Edward Bache: Piano Concerto in E major Op.18  can be heard on Hyperion: The Romantic Piano Concerto Volume 43 HYPERION CDA67595
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this material was first published.

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