Tuesday, 5 September 2017

William Wordsworth: Cheesecombe Suite for piano solo (1945) Part 2 (Conclusion)

The premiere of Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite was given during a lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, on 19 May 1948. Miss Yvonne Enoch’s playing ‘invest[ed] its four short movements with positive character.’ (The Times, 24 May 1948).
The Prelude & Fughetta from the Suite was played on Radio 3 during a recital of Scottish music by pianist William Wright on 18 October 1974. Also included in the programme was Wordsworth’s ‘Valediction’ for piano (Op.82) which was composed for Ronald Stevenson, in memory of Joe Watson. It was later arranged by the composer for full orchestra (op.82a, 1969). Other pieces included the now forgotten Suite by John Bevan Baker (1926-94) and Frank Spedding’s (1902-84) Eight Impromptus after Paganini.

The sheet music for the Cheesecombe Suite was published in 1948 by Lengnick, London. It was reviewed by Kenneth Avery in Music and Letters (July 1948). Avery considered that ‘Mr Wordsworth’s suite of four pieces, show considerable ability in working with insufficient material. The pieces all have the disadvantage of sounding uninteresting, although this composer’s great talent is apparent on every page he writes. Pianists are recommended to purchase the ‘Cheesecombe Suite’, however, for it is, after all, the accessible work by one of the foremost of our younger composers.’

The recording history is quite straightforward. Originally released by Lyrita in 1963, this is a mono album. Margret Kitchen (1914-2008) also played Wordsworth’s splendid Piano Sonata in D minor, op.13 (1938) and the rhapsodic Ballade, Op.41 (1949). The album was rereleased in identical packaging in 1975. In 2007 the LP was issued on CD as  REAM.2106. This disc also included Kitchen’s recordings of Iain Hamilton’s Piano Sonata, op,13 (1951) and Michael Tippett’s Piano Sonata No.1 (1937, rev. 1954).

The original LP was discussed in The Gramophone (June 1963) by Roger Fiske. He was moderately impressed and stated that ‘the final fughetta…ends splendidly and is very well played.’ He considered that the Prelude and the Nocturne ‘took too long to end, but…are otherwise pleasant enough.’  

In 1975 Michael Oliver reviewed the LP (vinyl) re-release of this album for The Gramophone (September 1975). His thoughts on the composer in general are worth recalling. He considers that Wordsworth is a ‘perplexing composer’ who ‘despite writing in an accessibly tonal language and being superficially dismissible as a late romantic…’ The ‘predominant mood of his music is a craggy brooding darkness, degenerating at times into glum heaviness or apparently aimless wanderings, but at its best conveying a brusque, unaccommodating nobility. It is not music for every day and it is undeniably uneven in quality, but there are several passages…works, whose sombre gravity evokes the world of Thomas Hardy or even of the composer’s namesake and kinsman himself.’
This is a cue for a dissertation.

Rob Barnett (MusicWeb International, 8 September 2008) writes ‘…darkling gloom pervades both the Prelude and the pensive overcast tolling of the Nocturne but is dispelled by the devil-may-care angularity of the Scherzo. The little Fughetta finale comes and goes in a few turbulent moments.’

Writing for MusicWeb International, (8 October 2008) Jonathan Woolf explained that the ‘Cheesecombe Suite…opens in vertiginous [lofty] but wholly tonal style and has its ‘darkling thrush’ [Thomas Hardy] moments. Cool and still and also vaguely watchful the Nocturne sits at its heart but there’s also a frantic Fughetta to end things – almost, it has to be said, in hysteria. Adherents of British piano music of the period will want to seek out Margaret Kitchin’s pioneering disc…’

For the record, I feel that William Wordsworth’s Cheesecombe Suite is a delightful excursion into neo-classicism, that has touches of romanticism, little in the way of modernism and virtually nothing of the ‘cow and gate.’ Despite its occasional lack of pianism, it is a worthy Suite that deserves pianists’ attention in 2017.

The Cheesecombe Suite, played by Margaret Kitchin, can be heard on LYRITA REAM 2016. It is available to subscribers of the Naxos Music Library.

No comments: