Thursday, 18 July 2013

William Alwyn: Hunter's Moon for piano

William Alwyn’s attractive suite ‘Hunter’s Moon’ was seemingly composed in the early 1920s but was not published by Associated Board until 1932/33. In many ways these are quite definitely for 'teaching' purposes; they were originally conceived as examination pieces. However, that is not to disparage them. No one would claim that this is great music and no one will expect to see many fingerprints of the composer that was to emerge in the post-war years. However one feature of these three miniatures that does strike the player and the listener is their neat craftsmanship. They are well balanced formally and ever so slightly daring harmonically.
The first piece, Midsummer Magic is a lovely little ‘allegretto e capriccioso’, which is perhaps just a little too fast to suggest a drowsy summer's evening. However there are two contrasting themes and a variety of accompaniment figurations, which makes it interesting for the player. Ernest Fowles, writing in the Musical Times in 1933 suggested that ‘a wistful and mystic touch pervades this music’. Furthermore, ‘...the direction ‘capriccioso’ must, however, be remembered, and also the absence of any climactic intensity; the result being a considerable demand upon the imagination of the player’.
The second piece, The Darkening Wood is influenced by John Ireland. This is by far the most difficult piece in this suite. The left-hand figuration is used over and over again; this suggests to me the static feel in a wood at night. Yet as we know, night-time also brings a wood to life with a thousand nocturnal creatures. So it is with this music. The interest is in the right hand and consists of a melody juxtaposed with brief snatches of that melody manipulated in a variety of ways. This ‘andante’ movement ends totally at peace with itself.
The last number has a feel of Schumann about it -a definite Night Ride through an English landscape as opposed to a German one. The tempo is 'allegro molto' throughout. There is some interesting chromatic writing here, with the harmony changing constantly. For an examination piece it is covered with accidentals. Maybe not one of Alwyn's best pieces, but played well it is exciting and rather fun.
Andrew Knowles has written that ‘surely each of these beguiling miniatures transcends that of mere examination pieces, so long after do the haunting melodies remain in the memory’. Andrew Aschenbach, writing in The Gramophone (November 2008) suggests that ‘...these pieces have ‘more than their fair share of winsome invention.’

William Alwyn’s Hunter’s Moon can be heard on Ashley Wass’ fine Naxos CD of the composer’s piano works. (8.570464

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