Friday, 16 November 2018

It's not British, but....Ansermet, Debussy and Ravel - 1947/8 recordings

My first introduction to Claude Debussy’s music was the Decca Eclipse recording (ECS 515) of La Mer, the March Écossaise, the Nocturnes and the orchestral arrangement of Claire de lune. This version of La Mer had been recorded by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet in Geneva during 1951. It was first issued on Decca LXT 2632. (There was some confusion in The Gramophone magazine about the version used for the Decca Eclipse release, so I hope I have got the antecedent correct!)
I recall playing the work repeatedly marvelling at the strange (to me) sounds and ‘sensuous beauty’ of the score. At the time, I did not know that Ansermet had made an earlier recording, released on 78 rpm discs (AK1606-8) of La Mer with the same orchestra in 1948. In fact, he  made four recordings in total of this work: 1948, 1951, 1957 and 1964.

La Mer was subtitled ‘Three Symphonic Sketches’ and was composed between 1903-5. The titles of the movements are ‘De l'aube à midi sur la mer’, ‘Jeux de vagues’ and ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’. Despite these colourful titles there is no specific programme, save to present the moods of the sea and skies throughout the day.
Often regarded as a masterpiece of impressionism, it is in fact a symphonic work where the movements are related by common themes and ideas. It is essential that La Mer is played from end to end and not excerpted into separate movements.  In this recording, Ernest Ansermet discloses the poetic nature of the music, as well as creating a performance full of colour, light and sensitivity. This is not an exclusive quality to Ansermet, but there is a definite magic here that is often lacking in more modern versions.

The CD opens with an idiomatic performance of Ravel’s ‘Alborada del gracioso’ which is an orchestration by the composer of the fourth piece in the piano suite Miroirs (1904-05). It displays all the excitement of Spain, seen through the eyes of a Parisian. Although all five pieces of Miroirs were orchestrated by Ravel or others, I understand that the ‘Alborada’ is the only one to have been recorded by Ansermet.

La Valse is a strange work. It was first conceived by Ravel in the dark days of the First World War and was completed by 1920. To my ear, it is an often disturbing and sometimes even macabre ‘take’ on the birth, decay and destruction of ‘The Waltz’, with a clear allusion to the political situation at the time. Although the composer denied this interpretation, it is hard to agree with him that this work does not at times reveal a ‘dance of death.’
Ernest Ansermet’s 1947 Kingsway Hall recording of La Valse is always in kept in check: he does not allow himself to get carried away by the sheer exuberance of the piece. Clearly the sound quality is a little less perfect than the later 1963 version released by Decca (SXL 6065) yet the maxim that Ansermet stayed true to his interpretations holds good here.

Ansermet made three recordings of Ravel’s Shéhérazade for soprano and orchestra: 1948, 1954 and 1963. The first two featured the remarkable Belgian soprano Suzanne Danco; the last the mezzo-soprano Régine Crespin.  Danco was renowned for her lightness of touch, her perfect diction and was regarded as a model interpreter of French music,
The present version was recorded on 28 May 1948 in Paris with Danco accompanied by the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.  Sometimes criticised for the lack of warmth in her voice, this crystal-clear performance allows the listener to hear every syllable. It displays a perfect sensitivity to the words by Tristan Klingsor inspired by The Thousand and One Nights. Alas, the text/translation of these songs is not given in the liner notes.

I was amazed at the quality of the transfer from 78s of Debussy’s charming but uncharacteristic Petite Suite originally composed between 1886-89 as a piano duet. In 1907 it was arranged for orchestra by composer, organist and conductor, Henri Büsser. The movements are ‘En Bateau’, ‘Cortege’, ‘Menuet’ and ‘Ballet.’ Ansermet presents a truly idyllic performance of ‘En Bateau’, which is my favourite movement. ‘Cortege’ seems a little ‘light’ and hardly suggests a funeral procession. After the elegant ‘Menuet’, the Suite closes with a sprightly ‘Ballet.’ Ansermet’s 70-year-old reading sounds new-minted. It is a pleasure to listen to this delightful piece of early Debussy, and Busser’s sparkling arrangement of it.  

For the record, Ernest Ansermet was born in Vevey, Switzerland on 11 November 1883. As a young man he was equally competent in mathematics as he was music. In fact, he became lecturer in maths at the University of Lausanne. His first position as conductor was at the Casino in Montreux. He personally knew Debussy and Ravel and discussed their music with them. In 1915 Ansermet took up the post of conductor for the Diaghilev Ballet. At this time, he became familiar with Igor Stravinsky’s music, which he championed throughout his career. He was Stravinsky’s own favourite interpreter of his music. In 1918, Ansermet formed his own orchestra, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva. He conducted this orchestra until shortly before his death on 20 February 1969.

The re-mastering of this disc impressed me. It is difficult to believe that all these recordings are 70-odd years old. The liner notes present an overview of Ernest Ansermet, his relationship with the recording studio and a discussion of the present ‘Ravel and Debussy 78s’.
From a personal point of view, I will always turn to Ansermet’s 1951 recording of La Mer, as that was the one I first discovered. For a slightly more up-to-date version, I turn to Jean Martinon’s account dating from the early 1970s. Bearing in mind that there are 170 versions of La Mer in the catalogue, it is not possible to hear them all (unless one is a Debussy specialist).
So, what of this present disc? It is wonderful to hear Ansermet’s ‘take’ on these five works. Enthusiasts of this maestro will demand these re-mastering’s which are released on Decca for the first time. It has been a pleasure them. 

Track Listing:
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Alborada del gracioso (1904-5)
La Valse (1919-20)
Shéhérazade for soprano and orchestra (1904)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer (1903-5)
Petite Suite (1889) arr. Henri BÜSSER
Suzanne Danco (soprano), L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet (Alborada, La Mer); Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Ernest Ansermet (La Valse, Shéhérazade, Petite Suite)
Rec. Radio Studio, Geneva, 4 February 1947 (Alborada, La Mer); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 6 October 1947 (La Valse); La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, 28 May 1948 (Shéhérazade), 1 June 1948 (Petite Suite).
DECCA 482 5007
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

E.J. Moeran Cello Works on Lyrita

When I was looking through some old posts on my Land of Lost Content Blog I found that in 2008 I had posted this review originally published on MusicWeb International. On my blog, it had become corrupted with some missing text and the fonts lacking uniformity. I have no hesitation in posting this again. I have corrected a few typos and matters of style but have not changed the content or sentiment of the review.  It remains my all-time Desert Island Disc.

I must confess that at the age of about 16, I fell in love with Peers Coetmore. I recall buying the original Lyrita vinyl album (SRCS.43) of Moeran’s Cello Concerto from a shop called Cuthbertson’s in Cambridge Street, Glasgow. On the cover of that LP was a lovely photograph of Moeran and Peers looking out over a hilly landscape which I think was Hergest Ridge. It fulfilled all my youthful romantic notions of love, landscape and music. Since that time the Cello Concerto has been my number one Desert Island Disc. It has never, in 48 years, been usurped from that position. Despite a certain critical downer on Peer’s playing, it will always remain for me the definitive performance of this masterly work.

A few biographical notes about the composer may be helpful. Ernest John (Jack) Moeran was born at Heston, Middlesex on 31st December 1894. He was the son of an Irish clergyman working in Norfolk, so church music was a part of his upbringing. He attended what was at that time the most musical of all the public schools, Uppingham. His teacher there was Robert Sterndale Bennett, the grandson of the British composer, William.
On leaving school in 1913, he enrolled as a student at the Royal College of Music.  The course was to be short lived. Upon the start of hostilities in 1914, Moeran enlisted in the Army. After service on the Western Front he returned to England with a serious head wound: he never fully recovered from this injury.
After the war he had some musical instruction from John Ireland. However, most of his musical learning came from his two companions - Bernard van Dieren and Philip Heseltine (Peter Warlock).
Although regarded as an ‘English’ composer, Moeran had an Irish streak in his blood: his father was born in Dublin! He was always to love that great country and its people.
Finally, Moeran was to die on the banks of the River Kenmare on 1st December 1950, from what was thought to be a brain haemorrhage.

Stylistically Moeran’s music changed from the ‘Irelandesque’ piano music of the early ‘twenties, through more folksong-inspired works and the ‘high’ romanticism of the Symphony in G minor to a new, personal, even neo-classical style forged during and after the Second World War. Yet, underlying all these so called ‘periods’ is a concern for structure and a warm, lyrical tone that is always a feature of Moeran’s music.

To understand the context of the works for cello it is necessary to look at Moeran’s relationship with the cellist Peers Coetmore- originally Kathleen Coetmore-Jones. The composer first met Peers in 1930 whilst visiting the painter Augustus John. She had been an exceptional pupil at the Royal Academy of Music, winning a number of prizes. Nothing came of this first encounter.
Many years later they were to meet once again at a concert in Leominster. This time their friendship developed and, for Moeran at any rate, it developed into love.
One of the outcomes of this relationship was a number of cello works dedicated to her.
On 26th July 1945 the couple were married. However it was not a particularly ‘successful’ union. Moeran needed to escape into solitude and Peers had considerable professional commitments which led to long separations. Gradually they drifted apart, with Peers finally working in Australia. All one can say is that as a couple they were ‘incompatible’. Yet they shared some happy moments, and this is well reflected in the one or two surviving photographs of the couple.

Geoffrey Self mentions four works composed for solo violoncello in his book The Music of E. J. Moeran (1986).  These are the Concerto for cello and orchestra of 1945, the Prelude for cello and piano of 1943, the Irish Lament of 1944 and the Sonata, for cello and piano of 1947.

The Prelude for Cello and piano is a simple, yet profound piece. A broad and lyrical melody is played over an extremely simple accompaniment.  Common chords and secondary sevenths are the staple harmonic feature. The Prelude was Moeran’s first piece which he dedicated to Peers. It was gifted to her as a ‘keepsake’ whilst she was on tour with ENSA during the war.  Strangely, but not surprisingly, the first performance of the piece was in Alexandria in Egypt.
Self does not rate the piece highly. He writes ‘it is a work of little distinction; the cello melody is shapely enough, but the piano part is frankly dull. It is....doomed to a humble place in grade examination lists.’
Yet perhaps the ‘dullness’ of the piano part gives the piece much of its charm. The lyrical quality of the melody is allowed to predominate without competition from the piano. The overriding characteristic of this piece is warmth. The Prelude was published by Novello in 1944

I am sorry that the Irish Lament does not appear to have been recorded by Peers Coetmore and Eric Parkin. I assume that if it had been, then it would have appeared on this CD. The Lament was based on a ‘genuine’ Irish folk song. It was composed in 1944 and was published by Novello in the same year.

The Cello Sonata has been regarded as Moeran’s most accomplished work. Whether this true is probably a matter of taste rather than judgement. However in this piece the composer seems to strike a good balance between his various styles and influences:  neo-classicism and romanticism come together in a satisfying unity. The composer wrote in a letter to Peers, ‘I have just spent all yesterday on cello sonata proofs. You know I don’t usually boast, but coming back to it, going through it note by note, and looking at it impartially, I honestly think it is a masterpiece. I can’t think how I ever managed to write it.’
Critics have noticed allusions to Bax and even to Bartok in the working out of the Sonata. Yet it is difficult to try to explain this or that passage in terms of influence. For this is a distinctive work by Moeran: it is mature and self-assured and never verges on parody or plagiarism.
The Cello Sonata is, to be frank, a depressing piece. Some of the pages have been likened to the peat bogs of Ireland: gloomy and dark.  There are moments of optimism and occasional flashes of light but surely the lasting impression is of quiet and shadowy restraint and perhaps even melancholy.
The Sonata has three movements - Tempo Moderato-Allegro, Adagio and Allegro. The first performance was given in Dublin by Peers Coetmore on the 9th May 1947. Charles Lynch was the pianist. It was published by Novello in 1948.

The world of British Cello Concertos is fairly sparse –at least when compared to symphonic works. Naturally every example of the genre is understood in light of the great and ubiquitous Concerto in E minor by Sir Edward Elgar. In fact, many music-lovers would be hard pressed to name another example. There are a number of fine concerti – including those by Arthur Sullivan, Alan Rawsthorne, Gerald Finzi, Frank Bridge and Kenneth Leighton to name but five. And from Central Europe is the great work by Anton Dvorak: this is regarded by Geoffrey Self as seminal for Moeran’s Concerto.
The Cello Concerto is surely the highlight of this present CD release. This is a work that manages to balance the formal constructs of a classical concerto with the beauties of Irish folk tunes. Many critics hold Raphael Wallfisch’s interpretation of the Concerto to be definitive. However, I have to hold my hand up and say that although I have enjoyed Wallfisch’s performances of this work – both at the Barbican Hall and on Chandos with Norman del Mar, I do not find it as satisfying as the Coetmore/Boult version. I have thought long and hard about this and I think that there are two good reasons why I take this stand.
Firstly, it is well known that Peers Coetmore had a style of playing that was more appropriate to chamber music. Moeran was conscious of this limitation – if that what it was. The work uses the orchestra as a partner for the soloist – not as an adversary. The work was created solely for her: he wrote ‘I would not allow anyone else to play it and I will not, while it is still under my control…’ Earlier he had written to Peers with enthusiasm, ‘Now please write and tell me you would like me to write a concerto specially for you, and I give you my promise that I will put my whole heart into it…I will be able to walk the Kerry Mountains with a real happy object in view.’ It was to be their own special work – a union of player and composer.
Certainly this present recording has been criticised for giving ‘an inadequate picture of this work’ and the reason given is that her ‘insight is not matched by playing of sufficient strength or skill.’ Now to my ear what Wallfisch clearly lacks is the insight to Moeran’s mood, his loves and quite natrually his feelings for his wife. I feel that Wallfisch gives a ‘big’ performance that sometime overwhelms the intimacy of this work.
Interestingly the reviewer of the Manchester Hallé performance was impressed by Peer’s playing. He wrote that she gave a ‘delightfully spirited performance.’ He notes that ‘once or twice a slightly doubtful intonation was heard.’ But finally he considers that the ‘general firmness and fluency of Miss Coetmore’s playing were as admirable as its interpretive range.’
Secondly, Peers manages to balance the various elements of this work in a more satisfying manner that Wallfisch. She empathises with the Celtic nature of many of the themes of the works - yet she never allows the Irishry to subsume those more urbane passages of which there are not a few. She brings a heart-rending beauty to the slow movement and a genuine sense of optimism to the finale. I have long felt that that this recording –made nearly twenty years after Moeran’s death- is to be regarded as Peers’s mature reflection of her life and love with Jack. And as such it is totally indispensable.

One last thought: it is not possible to read a definite programme into the Cello Concerto or any of the works written for Miss Coetmore: they are not ‘autobiographies’. However, it is clear that in many pages and passages of these works Ernest John Moeran expressed the genuine, deep love and devotion he felt for Peers.

Track Listing:

E.J. Moeran (1894-1950)
Cello Concerto (1945)
Cello Sonata (1948)
Prelude for cello and piano (1944)
Peers Coetmore (cello) Eric Parkin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
Lyrita SRCD.299 ADD

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Graham Peel: Ettrick – song for baritone and piano (1925)

When I was looking through some old posts on my Land of Lost Content Blog I found that in 2008 I had posted this essay about Graham Peel: Ettrick – song for baritone and piano. Somehow it had become corrupted with some of the text missing and the fonts lacking uniformity. I have no hesitation in posting this again. I have corrected a few typos and matters of style but have not changed the content of the essay.

I was rummaging in a well-known second-hand music bookshop in London the other day (during 2008) and I found this song by the relatively unknown composer Graham Peel. This caught my eye largely because it is an evocation of the Scottish Border Country, an area that I have long-known and loved. It is a corner of Scotland that is often by-passed when tourists are heading north to the Highlands. Yet, ignoring the wind-farms and the monoculture of coniferous forestation, this part of Scotland remains a wild and unspoilt area. Literary associations abound, including Sir Walter Scott, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson and James Hogg. Culturally rugby and hunting are more important in this region that other parts of the Scottish Nation. From the latter, the ethos of this song surely derives.
Where he is known at all, Graham Peel, is seen as a respected writer of songs – especially his setting of four poems from Housman’s Shropshire Lad. However, he has written over a hundred other songs to texts by many diverse poets and versifiers. There are also a few piano pieces.
Graham Peel was born in Pendlebury, Salford in 1878 and was educated at Harrow and University College, Oxford where he was fortunate to study with Dr Ernest Walker. He moved to Bournemouth in 1914 and remained there until his death in 1937, aged 59. He spent much of his life as a public servant and was heavily involved in the Discharged Prisoner’s Aid Society. Naturally, music took up a considerable portion of his life: he was President of the local branch of the British Music Society and was chairman of the Bournemouth Municipal Choir. Composition was therefore a relatively small part of his day to day work.

It is easy to compare Peel’s settings of Housman with those by Vaughan Williams, Gurney, Butterworth and Somervell – and to declare them inferior. Yet this is to miss the point. Philip Scowcroft wisely suggests that ‘Peel’s genuine lyrical gift which hovers between ballad and art-song but perhaps is more often nearer the former.’ It is in this context that we must judge his vocal music.
The words of this song were written by the Scottish poet and writer William Henry (W.H.) Ogilvie. Ogilvie was born at Holefield which is situated in the Borders, between Kelso and Coldstream. After a good education at Fettes College in Edinburgh, he worked on a sheep station in Australia. He began writing poetry at his time. After his return to Scotland he became a published author, writing both verse and agricultural journalism. He produced a number of ‘small volumes’ of poetry including one dealing with fox-hunting – a popular pastime in the Borders.

Graham Peel had recently set Ogilvie’s ‘The Challenge’ (1920) and ‘Little Brown Bees’ (1925) Other settings included at this time ‘Ferry me across the water’ by Christiana Rossetti, ‘The Lute Player’ by William Watson, ‘Nick Spence’ by William Allingham and ‘Kew in Lilac Time’ by Alfred Noyes. As an aside, the back-cover advert of the sheet music is for several works by the largely forgotten composer Martin Shaw – his suite for String Quartet looks promising, as do his settings of Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’, and Bliss Carman’s ‘At Columbine’s Grave’. It is unfortunate that Shaw’s catalogue is largely unknown and unheard.

Wild Ettrick, Wild Ettrick,
Your blue river gleams,
An azure cloak’d lover
That rides thro’ my dreams,
The heath’s at your stirrup,
The broom’s at your knee,
You sing in your saddle
A love song to me.

Thro’ green lands you led me
In lone ways apart
In long days you told me
Things dear to my heart,
In dream-time, in silence,
With haunting refrain
You murmur them over
And over again.

Wild Ettrick, Wild Ettrick
Love-raider in blue
Ah! Swing me to saddle
And take me with you
To glens of remembrance
And hills of desire,
The stars over Kirkhope
The Moon on the Swire

The basic sentiment of the song is love of the native land that an exile may have and his dreams of that place. The poet draws an analogy with a lover in the accepted sense of the word. For the curious, a ‘swire’ is a gentle depression between two hills and would appear to be an ‘old English’ word that has jumped across the border.
The song is simple – both from the singer’s and the accompanist’s point of view. The vocal range is from D to Fand is hardly taxing for a good baritone. The work is in waltz-time and is written in G major. It is signed ‘allegretto grazioso’ which perhaps seems an odd tempo for a song of horsemanship.
The piano accompaniment echoes the progress of the vocal melody and is primarily written in octaves and common chords. The fundamental melody is derived from a G major triad in second inversion and slips between the tonic and the dominant chord. The tune could certainly be described as naïve – although this is, I think a deliberate attempt to mimic a ballad. There is also a feel of the hunting horn in this melody – which is highly appropriate, considering the poem’s protagonist is most likely a huntsman! Each stanza ends with a long-held note lasting for more than three bars. The second and third stanzas are set to a similar, but not identical melody. It is as if the composer had regarded the initial phrase as a ‘set’ and then presented the notes in varying order. The second verse has a brief modulation to B minor. The final stanza has an interesting variation for the penultimate line – Peel modulates to the dominant seventh of the subdominant. And finally, the very last line of the poem is signed ‘ad lib’ and is unaccompanied. This is preceded by a short cadenza on the piano and the song ends on a long tenor D and is supported by a piano coda.

The song was published by J.B Cramer of New Bond Street, London in 1925. There is no record of any first performances - although I guess it would not be too off the mark to suggest that it was given in Bournemouth. The work appears to have fallen out of the repertoire.
As far as I am aware this song is not presently available on CD. However, I have found a reference to a recording made in 1926 by Denis Noble. It was coupled with a song called Passing By alleged to be by a certain Mr Purcell – but apparently so dull as to make an ascription to Henry unlikely!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

With Harmony of Soul and Song: Songs of Hubert Parry

Unless I am mistaken, the first recording entirely devoted to the songs of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was a selection from the 12 books of English Lyrics issued on the Decca label, recorded in 1977. It featured Robert Tear and Philip Ledger. This LP was released on the Argo label (ZK44).  

Twenty years later, Hyperion issued another splendid selection of Parry’s songs (CDA67044). The performers were Stephen Varcoe, baritone and Clifford Benson, piano. I recall buying the album as soon as it came out and was delighted by every number I heard. I guess that I was disappointed that the words ‘Volume 1’ did not appear on the back cover.

In 2013 Delphinan issued a wonderful disc of Parry’s songs entitled ‘From a City Window.’ (DCD34117). The artists included Ailish Tynan, soprano, Susan Bickley, mezzo-soprano, William Dazeley, baritone and Iain Burnside (piano). This had the added value of being recorded in the music room of Parry’s childhood home at Highnam Court in Gloucestershire. It received excellent reviews, including one on MusicWeb International by John Quinn.  At the end of his review, John wondered ‘when there’ll be another album of Parry’s songs…’
In fact, we did not have to wait long. In 2016 SOMM issued the first volume of the ‘Twelve Sets of English Lyrics.’ (SOMMCD257). Once again this was well-received. Two years later ‘Volume 2’ (SOMMCD270) of this cycle appeared in the record shops. I understand that there is a final CD in the offing. For the first time, Parry enthusiasts (and I am one) will be able to hear the entire run of his English Lyrics. Add to this, that the vocal scores for 11 of the 12 volumes of English Lyrics are available online for download, it will give enthusiast all the material they will need to evaluate Parry’s remarkable collection of songs.

Which brings me to the present CD from EM Records. This appears to be a standalone recital, with no suggestion of any subsequent releases of Parry’s songs. The batting order is largely in volume order of the published 12 volumes of the English Lyrics. I have not collated the songs selected to the above-mentioned CD and LP releases, but I understand that most of the numbers on this disc have been recorded before.

Parry’s enjoyment and appreciation of literature was eclectic. From Shakespeare to Sir Walter Scott and from Richard Lovelace to personal acquaintances of the composer such as Julian Sturgis, the list of poets and authors is wide-ranging in its artistic concerns. Parry does have a knack of choosing an excellent poem or verse, and then using his undoubted craftsmanship to create an enjoyable, satisfying and well-constructed song.

I do not intend to comment on every song, as this would make my review unwieldy. Four Songs particularly appealed to me.  One of the loveliest settings on this CD is ‘A Welsh Lullaby’, to a poem by Edmund O. Jones, translated by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887). This peaceful song evokes the security of the cradle, without falling into sheer sentimentality. Hughes, a collector of Welsh folk-songs, was often referred to as the ‘Welsh Robert Burns’. Another Welsh poem made into a splendid number was ‘When Comes my Gwen’ with a text by Richard Davies (1833-77). This rhapsodic song gradually lessens in intensity to present the listener with a musical image that proves ‘Her loving eyes/Reveal the skies/And point the way to heaven.’  ‘On a time, the amorous Silvy’ is an anonymous little ‘pastoral’ verse which is turned into a coquettish song that tells of ‘Sylvia’s’ flirtation with her shepherd lover. Finally, ‘Ye Little Birds’ attributed to Thomas Heywood (c.1570-1641) reminds me of Arthur Sullivan: it is none the worse for that. Clearly other listeners will have their favourites.

The rear cover of the CD explains that the ‘Three Odes of Anacreon’ (1869-1878) are premiere recordings.  The first of these ‘odes’ ‘Away, away, you men of rules’ was written in 1868, when Parry was at Oxford University. It begins as rumbustious song, with a more reflective middle-section. The song ends by reminding the listener that ‘they drink but little wine below’ - in Hades, presumably. The second song, nods to ‘Bacchus and his merry crew.’ Once again this is a drinking song. The final number that Parry added before publication in 1880 was the more ‘sobering’ ‘Golden Hues of Life are Fled.’  The translations from Anacreon’s (582BC-485 BC) Greek were made by Irish poet and songwriter Thomas Moore (1779-1852).

Finally, it was good to hear another verison of ‘Dream Pedlary’. I guess virtually everyone knows and loves John Ireland’s setting, nevertheless, Parry has created a much more restrained song that perfectly reflects the mood of ‘A cottage lone and still…’

The liner notes present a brief but sufficient biography of Parry, written by Fabian Huss. This is followed by Paula Fan’s essay-length discussion of the repertoire on this CD. The text of all the songs is included. The booklet concludes with the usual notes about the performers.  I think that it would have been helpful to have given the poet’s name and the volume of English Lyrics the song is printed in the track-listing. I do know that it is ‘easy’ to gather this information from the above-mentioned essay and the song texts. I have included this detail in the track-listing below.

Baritone Jeremy Huw Williams brings an obvious enthusiasm to these songs. His diction is always crystal clear. I am not sure that I always enjoy Williams’ ‘falsetto’ in some of these songs. (e.g. A Welsh Lullaby’)
Paula Fan’s playing is always sympathetic, however, I felt that every so often the accompaniment was just a little too much in the background, with the baritone to the fore.

All in all, an enjoyable CD. I would suggest that the listener take a handful of songs at time, rather than plough through all 26 at one sitting. Parry overload, even for Parry enthusiasts can be a bad thing.  Taking this repertoire slowly will allow the full impact of these melodies to sink into the mind. There is no doubt that many are ‘minor’ masterpieces that deserve their place in the pantheon of ‘English’ Song.

Track Listing:
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)

[EL= English Lyrics]
Three Odes of Anacreon (trans. Thomas Moore): Away, away, you men of rules; Fill me, boy, as deep a draught; Golden hues of life are fled
Good night (Percy Bysshe Shelley) (EL Vol.1)
Take, O take those lips away (William Shakespeare) (EL Vol.2)
To Lucasta, on going to the wars (Richard Lovelace) (EL Vol.3)
If thou would'st ease thine heart (Thomas Lovell Beddoes) (EL Vol.3)
To Althea, from prison (Richard Lovelace) (EL Vol.3)
Why so pale and wan, fond lover (Sir John Suckling) (EL Vol.3)
Weep you no more: sad fountains (Anon.) (EL Vol.4)
Proud Maisie (Sir Walter Scott) (EL Vol.5)
Lay a garland on my hearse (Beaumont & Fletcher) (EL Vol.5)
A Welsh lullaby (Edmund O. Jones) (EL Vol.5)
When comes my Gwen (Edmund O. Jones) (EL Vol.6)
And yet I love her till I die (Anon.) (EL Vol.6)
Love is bable (Anon.) (EL Vol.6)
Under the greenwood tree (William Shakespeare) (EL Vol.6)
On a time, the amorous Silvy (Anon.) (EL Vol.7)
Ye little birds that sit and sing (Thomas Heywood) (EL Vol.7)
O never say that I was false of heart: Sonnet CIX (William Shakespeare) (EL Vol.7)
Sleep (Julian Strugis) (EL Vol.7)
Nightfall in winter (Langdon Elwyn Mitchell) (EL Vol.8)
Dirge in woods (George Meredith) (EL Vol.8)
Grapes (Julian Sturgis) (EL Vol.8)
Armida's garden (Mary Coleridge) (EL Vol.9)
Dream pedlary (Thomas Lovell Beddoes) (EL Vol.12)
Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), Paula Fan (piano)
Rec. 10-12 January 2018, Jeff Haskell Recording Studio, University of Arizona
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Elizabeth Maconchy: Symphony for Double String Orchestra

Elizabeth Maconchy’s Symphony for Double String Orchestra (1952-3) is in the same league as similar works composed by Sir Michael Tippett and Ralph Vaughan Williams. This is quite definitely a masterpiece. Maconchy titled the work ‘on account of its weight and serious content’. However, the formal construction of the piece owes more to Bach’s Brandenburg’s rather than to any ‘classical’ symphony.

This Symphony is in four well-balanced but strongly contrasting movements. The ‘allegro molto’ opens with an insistent and quite aggressive ‘five note figure’, however this is offset by, as Rob Barnett calls it, a ‘fandango pizzicato’ – quite a ‘pop’ tune! The second movement is the heart of the work. Profoundly intense, the composer scores for an expressive solo violin. The music pushes towards a great climax before subsiding into the reflective opening material. This is one of the great ‘elegies’ of British string music. The ‘scherzo’ is wonderful stuff: it well balances the heart rending ‘lento’. This music is written antiphonally with the two groups of strings engaging in a spirited conversation. Yet it is not the traditional ‘joke’. There are some serious matters to be discussed in these pages. The movement ends with nod to things Gallic - or are they Iberian? The reflective mood of much of this piece is continued in the last movement – a well thought out ‘passacaglia’. This is intense music that is well balanced between a long ‘allegro’ section and a soaring ‘lento.’ One is reminded of a dozen composers – but it is never possible to quite put the finger on them! Originality is the keynote.

The Symphony for Double String Orchestra is at the same time beautiful, moving, well-constructed and challenging. It is so wrong that the vagaries of musical appreciation in this country have consigned it to the vaults of the ‘noted by the musicologists but unheard by the public’ type of music. Thank goodness, Lyrita has recorded this work. Let us hope that somehow it will become established in the repertoire of many orchestras. Yet somehow, I feel that this will not be the case.

The Symphony was given it premiere by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Walter Goehr at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios in London on 30 November 1954.
Elizabeth Maconchy’s Symphony for Double String Orchestra is available on Lyrita SRCD 288. It has been posted in (search) YouTube.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

It's not British, but...Carl Czery's Piano Concerto in D minor on Naxos

Most aspiring pianists will have met Carl Czerny. Whether it is the ‘elementary’ Practical Method for Beginners on the Pianoforte (op.599), The Art of Finger Dexterity op.740 or The School of Velocity op.299 they will have struggled through at least some of these ‘exercises.’ Often regarded as being unmusical, they are/were used for overcoming various technical challenges and resolving common faults in playing. I have found some of them quite attractive and feel that they would benefit from being given slightly more imaginative titles than ‘exercises in passage playing.’
All this means that to most musicians Czerny is simply a pedant, often dry as dust, and lacking any potential for enjoyment. Wrong! As I hope that listeners to this new CD from Naxos will discover.

A few notes about the composer will help. Carl Czerny was born in Leopoldstad, Vienna on 21 February 1791. He was such a promising student that Beethoven took him on when aged only nine years. Czerny’s first composition was published some five years later.  Other teachers included Muzio Clementi and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Over succeeding years, he achieved recognition throughout Europe as a composer and a virtuoso pianist. However, it was as a teacher he became highly regarded. Franz Liszt was his most prestigious pupil. Other ‘students’ included Stephen Heller, Theodor Kullak and Sigismund Thalberg
Czerny wrote more than 1000 works, many of which contained several discrete pieces. His opus was not limited to technical exercises, but included masses, requiems, nine symphonies, concertos, sonatas, quartets, songs, arrangements of operas. He did not actually compose an original opera! Carl Czerny died in his hometown on 15 July 1857.

Czerny’s Introduzione e Rondo Brillant in B flat major, op.233 was written around 1833. The actual date is unknown. The work opens with a grave ‘introduction’ in the minor key. This sometimes ‘Chopinesque’ mood does not last for long before the piano presents a ‘presto’ cadenza leading into the Rondo. This is a delightfully satisfying romp which, as the liner notes suggest, ‘is full of mischief.’ The listener cannot but be impressed with the twists and turns of Czerny’s development of his favourite ‘rondo’ form. The technical challenges appear huge, but Rosemary Tuck is equal to them with this bravura performance. This is a hugely enjoyable piece that one thinks would be a pleasing crowd-puller at any concert.

The Piano Concerto in D minor is long, weighing in at just over 40 minutes. Much as I enjoyed this work, I did wonder if it overstayed its welcome. It was composed between 1811-12 when the composer was 20 years old and was his first essay in this form. The general critical impression is that Czerny had Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 (1803) on his mind at the time.  The opening movement is a long 25 minutes and is a surprisingly complex balance between ‘darkness and foreboding’ and a more ‘congenial’ mood. Rosemary Tuck and Alan Jones provided the cadenza.
The ‘adagio’ opens with a lovely horn passage before developing into a ‘pastoral’ mediation. This lasts for only a few minutes before the ‘finale’ takes over. The listener is at the hunt, with lively horn calls and galloping melodies. There are some lovely moments of repose, but mostly this is vivacious ‘brio’ music.  If anything, this concerto is just a little unbalanced with movement durations, however, based on the wonderful musical invention throughout, the composer can be forgiven. It is stunningly played.

The Introduction, Variations and Rondo on Weber’s ‘Hunting Chorus’ from the opera ‘Euryanthe’, Op. 60 was published in June 1824. Czerny has devised a considerable work playing for over 23 minutes. The liner notes suggest that this virtuosic piece was written shortly after the premiere of Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Euryanthe at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna on 25 October 1823.
After a strong ‘introduction’ which balances stirring chords with some gorgeous, slow figurations, the intricate variations which follow feature much interplay of between the piano and orchestra before the delightful rondo brings the work to a sparkling close.  It is a splendid work that is like a piano concerto in scale. Listeners who know Euryanthe and the ‘Huntsman’s Chorus’ from Act III Scene V will hear some elaborate re-presentations of Weber’s music that seems to wander far from the ‘chorus.’ In fact, it often sounds more like Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (1811) than Weber. This is an exciting and dynamic performance and is a ‘world premiere recording.’

I do wish that a little more analytical information had been given in the liner notes, as two of these three works are first performances. There is little background information on any of them available on the ‘web.’ I was unable to find the scores in the digital libraries.

The recording of these work was perfect. Australian pianist Rosemary Tuck’s gives an ideal performance that often bends to towards the classical rather than the romantic.  That said, she handles the Weber and Chopin ‘nods’ with great skill and imagination. The English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge is always sympathetic.

Track Listing:
Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Introduzione e Rondo Brillant in B flat major, op.233 (c.1833)
First Piano Concerto, in D minor (1811-12)
Introduction, Variations and Rondo on Weber’s Hunting Chorus from the opera ‘Euryanthe’, op.60 (1824)
Rosemary Tuck (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Rec. 14-16 December 2016, St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London
NAXOS 8.573688
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

Arnold Bax: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

The second half of this pen portrait of Arnold Bax contains several performance dates and a list of orchestral works which Brook thinks demands the concertgoer’s attention. I have lightly annotated the text.

‘[Bax’s] Symphony No. 1 was first performed in London on December 4th, 1922 by Albert Coates and was described by Nicolas Slonimsky as ‘a work of gloomy introspection with overtones of mystical contemplation.’ [1] It was also performed at the Festival held by the International Society for Contemporary Music in Prague in the summer of 1924. The same Society's Supplementary Festival at Salzburg two months later gave the critics their first opportunity of hearing Bax's Viola Sonata. [2]
The premiere of his Second Symphony took place in America on December 19th, 1929 when it was played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzky. [3] Writing to Philip Hale about it, Bax said that it should be ‘very broad indeed, with a kind of oppressive catastrophic mood.’ [4]
The sombre Third Symphony followed on March 14th, 1930 under the conductorship of Sir Henry Wood; the Fourth Symphony was first performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Basil Cameron on March 16th, 1932; the Fifth received its initial performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham on January 15th, 1934; and the Sixth, dedicated to Sir Adrian Boult, was first heard at a [Royal] Philharmonic [Society] Concert conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty on November 21st, 1935. Sir Arnold's Seventh Symphony, the last up to the time of writing, was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and first heard in England on June 21st, 1940. [5]
One of Bax's latest works is his String Quartet in G, which possesses a very beautiful slow movement. [6]
In recent years he has also written occasionally for the films. His most popular works are the symphonic poem The Garden of Fand, and that fascinating orchestral work Tintagel, [7] but I have good reason for believing that in the years to come we shall hear more frequent performances of many of his other compositions for the orchestra, including the Overture to Adventure, Overture to a Picaresque Comedy, Rogues' Comedy Overture, Summer Music, The Happy Forest, The Tale the Pine Trees Knew, Two Northern Ballads, the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and London Pageant, a march and trio dedicated to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and written for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. [8]

Sir Arnold's chamber music is also of considerable importance, and his compositions for the piano, despite the difficulty of most of them, appeal strongly to those who can play them, because of their richness in colour.
Bax is undoubtedly a master of melody and intricate rhythm, but his works demand very close attention. His symphonies even more than his other orchestral works are proof of their creator's brilliant technique and remarkable creative power. Robin Hull says of them:
‘The meditative, deeply penetrating character of Bax's invention ranges from the starkest ferocity to idyllic enchantment. His wealth of romantic beauty is interwoven with much keener austerities and tinged by more remorseless sentiments than any usually associated with romance. He reveals an incomparable mastery of orchestral colour in music which strikes to a depth unattainable by impressionism . . . The nature of his strongly individual style, which attempts no compromise with past or present fashions, receives scant illumination by direct contrast with that of other composers; nor can his mature works be profitably compared with any except those which he himself has written.’ [9]

Owing to its complexity of structure and rhythm, Bax's work is often difficult to appreciate on its first hearing. It is unrestrained and yet refined, and more often than not we find that he has deliberately chosen to depict the more sombre aspects of life. Sir Arnold wrote an article in Musical America some years ago in which he confessed that he was a ‘brazen romantic’ and explained that by this he meant that his music was ‘the expression of emotional states.’ He added that he was not interested ‘in sound for its own sake or in any modernist "isms" or factions.’ [10]
He is of a quiet and retiring nature and prefers to live unobtrusively in a little Sussex village not very far from London. [11]
His brother, Clifford Bax, [12] is the well-known poet and dramatist, by the way. Sir Arnold was knighted in 1937, and four years later became Master of the King's Music after the death of Sir Watford Davies. He has received honorary degrees of Doctor of Music from the Universities of Oxford (1934) and Durham (1935).'

[1] Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995) a Russian-born American conductor, author, pianist, composer and lexicographer. As can be seen, he died aged 101 years. I was unable to find the source of this quotation.
[2] Not sure of the exact date of the Prague performance, but between 31 May and 2 June 1924. Probably 1 June. Fritz Reiner conducted the Festival Orchestra. The Viola Sonata was performed by Lionel Tertis, viola and Harriet Cohen, piano at Salzburg on 6 August 1924.
[3] Actually 13 December 1929. It was given another performance on the following day.
[4] Philip Hale (1854-1934) was an American Music Critic.
[5] Bax’s Seventh Symphony was premiered at the Carnegie Hall, New York on 9 June 1939. Sir Adrian Boult conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The British premiere was at the Colston Hall, Bristol on 21 June 1940. Sir Adrian conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was indeed Bax’s final symphony.
[6] I am not sure what Donald Brooks is driving at here. The String Quartet in G major was composed in 1918, some 28 years before this book was published. Even the String Quartet No.3 in F major was first heard in 1936. 
[7] There are 18 recordings of Tintagel and 8 of The Garden of Fand currently in the Arkiv Music CD catalogue, so they have retained their popularity, some 72 year on. However, both these works are rarely given a live performance. As to Donald Brook’s other ‘recommendations’ none have gained a foothold in the repertoire, though all have received at least a single recording.
[8] Bax’s Coronation March (1952) was his last orchestral work. It incorporated music featured in the film Malta GC.
[9] Robin Hull: ‘Approach to Bax’s Symphonies’ Music & Letters April 1942
[10] Musical America 7 July 1928, p.9. This has been reprinted in Farewell my Youth and other writings, ed. Lewis Foreman, Scolar Press, 1992.
[11] At the time of Donald Brook writing his Composer’s Gallery (1946), Arnold Bax was living at The White Horse Hotel, Storrington, Sussex.
[12] Clifford Bax (1886-1962) was an English author, playwright, journalist, critic and editor, a poet, lyricist and hymn writer.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Arnold Bax: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Clearly, he had met these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’ Gallery (London, Rockliff, 1946) by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’
On a personal note, this was one of the earliest second-hand books about music that I bought in the days before the internet: it served as my introduction to a wide range of composers and their music.  I include several footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of ‘Arnold Bax.’

'SIR ARNOLD BAX, Master of the King's Music, was born in 1883 at Streatham, [1] which at that time was rather less of a London suburb than it is to-day. His great love of Ireland, which
is reflected in so much of his work, once caused a journalist to presume that he was born in that country, and using a little of the imagination to which certain parts of Fleet Street are apt to resort when cold facts are not available, the literary gentleman rushed into print with a statement that Bax was born on an island in the middle of a bog-lake in County Mayo. There is, of course, a good deal of Irish blood in Sir Arnold's veins, and nothing would have pleased him more than if the journalist's statement had been true.
As a child he showed amazing ability at the piano: he seemed to be able to read music instinctively at sight. His first acquaintance with orchestral music was made when his father began taking him to the Crystal Palace Saturday Concerts, and it is not surprising to learn that within a week or so he was making insistent demands to learn to play the violin as well. He made rapid progress on both instruments, and when the family moved to Hampstead in 1896, [2] he took lessons from an Italian ex-bandmaster. [3]

He wrote his first sonata at the age of twelve, and in the ensuing years composed with such ardour that when he was fourteen his father, slightly bewildered at his son's musical effusions, took from to Westminster to consult Sir Frederick Bridge upon the advisability of his adopting music as a career.
‘Do you assure me, Sir Frederick, that my son really has this musical taint in his system?’
‘I fear that I cannot hide it from you, sir, that such is indeed the case. That will be three guineas, thank you, and mind the step.’

So Bax went to an institution known as the Hampstead Conservatoire [4] to study the piano, harmony and composition under a local organist, but in 1900 proceeded to the Royal Academy of Music, where his fellow students were Stanley Marchant (now the Principal) [5], B[enjamin] Dale, Adam Carse, Eric Coates, Harry Farjeon, W. H. Read and York Bowen. Myra Hess and Irene Scharrer [pianists] were also there at that time, and in his autobiography, Bax says that he remembers them as ‘very small and eternally giggling girls.’

Bax was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant students the Academy had ever known. He could play an orchestral score at sight on the piano with an ease that staggered his professors, and it is thought that this has always made it difficult for him to appreciate the complexity of much of his own work. Tobias Matthay took him for the piano, and Frederick Corder for composition.
Unlike most composers, Sir Arnold steadfastly refuses to conduct his own works. The origin of this attitude may be traced back to his student days when he won the Charles Lucas Medal with a set of symphonic variations. [6] Frederick Corder arranged for these to be performed at a concert to be held at the Royal College of Music and allowed C. V. Stanford to persuade Bax to conduct them. He acquiesced, although he knew nothing of the art of conducting. At the end of the performance he resolved never again to take up the baton.
By the time he left the Royal Academy of Music in 1905 he had written a substantial number of works, but most of them had to be revised or withdrawn in later years because the elaborations of their texture were excessive.
Bax became a very fine pianist, but rarely, if ever, played in public. He travelled for years not only in Germany, where every young musician tried to make his musical pilgrimages, but also in Russia, a country which impressed him sufficiently to leave its mark upon several of his works. His experiences there produced three short works: ‘May Night in the Ukraine’, ‘Gopak’ and ‘In a Vodka Shop. [7]
For many years Arnold Bax was engaged in a long struggle for recognition. He was of course fortunate in possessing private means, so that he was never under any obligation to earn money, or indeed, to consider the financial aspect of his various musical activities. There is no doubt that he could have demanded high fees as a pianist had he been inclined to perform in public, but he never sought musical appointments of any kind, believing that they should be left for those who were obliged to seek a livelihood in music.'

[1] Arnold Bax was born on Thursday, 8 November 1883 at ‘Heath Villa’ Angles Road, Streatham. Since Bax’s birth, the address has been renumbered and renamed to 13 Pendennis Road, London, SW16. The house is marked with a Blue Plaque.
[2] After several moves in the south London area, the Bax family moved to Ivy Bank, in Haverstock Hill, Hampstead Heath, London NW3.
[3] Signor Masi was a master at Heath Mount School attended by Bax between 1896 and 1898.  Little is known about him and he is not mentioned in the main Bax reference books and biographies.
[4] The Hampstead Conservatoire was a private college of music and the arts. Located at 64 Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, by the time Arnold Bax enrolled in 1898, the building had been reconstructed. The principal at that time was Cecil Sharp.  Bax was to study piano, theory and counterpoint with Dr Arthur James Greenish. In 1928, the Conservatoire was converted into the Embassy Theatre.  In turn, when this closed in 1956 it became the premises of Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.
[5] Stanley Marchant (1883-1949) was an English church musician, composer and teacher. In 1914 Marchant was appointed a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1936 he became Principal of that institution, a post he held until 1949, when he was succeeded by Sir Reginald Thatcher.
[6] The ‘symphonic variations’ are actually the Variations for orchestra (Improvisations) which was completed on 10 June 1904. Despite winning the Charles Lucas Prize, this work was rejected for potential performance at the fourth Patron’s Fund Concert held on 29 June 1905. As implied in Brook’s text Bax’s less-than-convincing attempt at conducting may have been partly to blame. The Variations have been released on Dutton Epoch CDLX7326. This work is not to be confused with the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra composed during 1918 and premiered on 23 November 1920 at the Wigmore Hall.
[7] ‘Nocturne-May Night in the Ukraine’, and ‘Gopak’ were originally written for the piano in 1912. ‘In a Vodka Shop’, also for piano, followed in 1915. Two of the numbers were arranged for orchestra by Bax, with the Nocturne having been orchestrated by Graham Parlett. It was issued as the Russian Suite during 1988 and was recorded by Chandos. (CHAN 8669).

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Piano Music by E.J. Moeran and Gordon Jacob on Lyrita

When I was looking through some old posts on my Land of Lost Content Blog I found that in 2008 I had posted this review originally published on MusicWeb International. On my blog, it had become corrupted with some missing text and the fonts lacking uniformity. I have no hesitation in posting this again. I have corrected a few typos and matters of style but have not changed the content or sentiment of the review.

I was so delighted when I heard that Lyrita were resurrecting these recordings. It is a long time since I last gave my vinyl recordings of these pieces a spin and it is great to hear them again. I live in hope that it will not be too long before the remaining mono recordings in the Lyrita archive appear on CD. [This has happened! 2018]. Meanwhile, Iris Loveridge provides the listener with a thoroughly enjoyable and often moving account of some fine but neglected piano music.

The Irish Love Song was composed in 1926 and was based on a genuine folksong. Moeran rarely used ‘real’ folksongs, however this piece is one two such arrangements – the other being ‘The White Mountain’.  There is some debate as to whether the composer derived the tune from his friend Peter Warlock or from Hamilton Harty. On the one hand the piano piece is dedicated to Warlock and on the other Harty used the same tune in his Irish Symphony written some eight years previously: Harty was one of Moeran’s mentors.

I must admit that the ‘Theme and Variations’ is my least favourite of Moeran’s piano music: I have never been able to work out why. I think that it may be that I feel it somehow lacks a sense of unity. It is an early piece, written when the composer was about 26 years old. The ‘Theme’ would appear to be based on a folksong, yet the truth is that it is a confection devised by the composer. Delius seems to lie behind this tune. The theme is followed by six variations that explore various facets of the material. Perhaps the most attractive is the 6th – non troppo lento e rubato. This is followed by ‘a large scale peroration’ of a finale.

On a May Morning is one of those pieces of music whose title belongs to someone else. Naturally, it complements Bax’s On a May Evening – also for piano solo. And Rob Barnett suggests that it is a title that belongs to John Ireland! This is possibly nearer the mark: the piece was written in 1921 at a time when Moeran was studying with the older man.  It is actually a very beautiful piano solo that well balances folk music content (do I hear an echo of Linden Lea?) and a neo-impressionistic style. It is played delightfully by Loveridge who manages to suggest all the busyness of that magical time of year – at least as the poet imagines it, as opposed to the reality of ‘May Days and Grey Days!’ 

The Three Fancies could be construed as ‘mere’ salon music, albeit of a high quality. Yet there is much here that goes deeper. For example, the ‘Elegy’, with its dark and rather depressing harmonies, is in complete contrast to the more ebullient pieces that flank it. It has been suggested that the ‘Elegy’ is a ‘dreamy pastorale,’ however that is a sentiment that overstates the mark. If a landscape was being described it would be a marshy bog and not the smiling fields that the Scholar Gypsy knew. The ‘Burlesque’ lightens matter up. It is not quite a peasants’ dance but is full of ‘uncouth’ piano figurations that suggests Bax’s Gopak. The opening ‘fancy’ is really a little masterpiece that could well stand on its own. Moeran spent much time in Norfolk exploring the villages and searching out folksongs. In his travels he would come across windmills – certainly many more that nowadays grace the skyline. His musical evocation of these ‘quixotic giants’ echoes the ‘revolving sails’ in a clever impressionistic manner. There is a quieter interlude, when the wind has died away to a whisper. But the miller’s business is safe, the breeze returns, and the sails revolve once more. It is a perfect miniature tone poem. Loveridge captures the grace and movements of this music.

Summer Valley seems to be more Fred. Delius than Fred. Delius ever composed! I think of the Cotswold Hill Tune by C.W. Orr and the Serenade by Peter Warlock as the two other prime candidates for this sub-genre. Moeran writes an attractive ‘Sicilienne’, and I guess it is more this than anything else that makes Delius the referential marker. Delius often used this compound time ‘from’ in his tone poems.  
Yet this is not to knock this lovely piece – it is one that has been a favourite of mine ever since I first bought the original vinyl album. I have often wondered where the ‘summer valley’ was – but I guess that is a place that exists in the composer’s and the listener’s minds: I certainly know where mine is – but that would be telling. It is one of my (many) Desert Island Discs. And Iris Loveridge’s rendition is top of that list.

The Moeran recital ends with the early Three Piano Pieces written in 1919. These were the composer’s first published compositions. Interestingly, Moeran had come to Boyle in County Roscommon to convalesce from his serious war wounds. He was smitten with Ireland (country) and was to retain this affection for the rest of his life.
The first piece, ‘The Lake Island’, is redolent of W.B. Yeat’s ‘land of fairie’ and may have been directly inspired by the poet’s similarly named poem. Moeran was acquainted with some of Bax’s music, including In the Fairy Hills.  Once again, this is really a little tone poem for piano – the water can be heard lapping against the bank or the boat. ‘Autumn Leaves’ is a more serious piece. Peter J. Pirie suggests that it has something in it of Farnaby’s Fall of the Leaf, although pointing out that Moeran’s thoughts extend considerably further and in a more complex manner than that piece. ‘At the Horse Fair’ is really a little bit of Irishry that captures the mood of an event that the composer had attended in Roscommon.  This is hardly complex music – it is largely diatonic but maintained interest with ‘off-beat’ rhythms. 

One last thought about Jack Moeran: the CD cover and the sleeve notes suggest that Moeran was born in 1864. All enthusiasts know that he was born thirty years later. The official date of birth is 31st December 1894.

It is good that Iris Loveridge’s recording of Gordon Jacob Piano Sonata has been re-released. It was one of the earliest Lyrita records that I purchased. Some thirty-five years down the road [now 45 years] it is still (I believe) the only edition of this work available on CD. It is difficult to understand how such an impressive work can be so completely ignored by performers. Yet, with one or two exceptions, it is the fate of most British Piano Sonatas. Bridge and Ireland have considerable followings. But what are we to make of the masterworks of McEwen, Hurlstone, Dale, White, Hamilton, Hoddinott, Truscott et al? They are largely represented by a single recording of their respective Sonatas made over the past forty or fifty years.
Gordon Jacob is a name who is familiar to all enthusiasts of English music, yet relatively few of his compositions are widely known. Over recent years several works have been committed to CD – most especially the wonderful Symphonies on Lyrita.

The present Piano Sonata was written for Iris Loveridge over fifty years ago. It is hardly a work of its time: I suppose it could be argued that Jacob was always on the conservative side of the compositional fence. Yet there is nothing ‘retro’ about this music. It is a fine example of piano writing and displays considerable power and invention.

The Sonata is in four movements with the first being the longest at six minutes. I find it rather difficult to pin down the stylistic content as each movement explores a different facet of pianistic style. For example, the finale makes use ‘of the piano’s percussive quality’ whereas the opening section of ‘adagio’ is painted in dark colours that border on the impressionistic.  The third movement, another adagio is the emotional heart of the work. This is truly beautiful music that creates a perfect balance between spontaneity and control.
Rob Barnett has suggested that this Sonata is caught between the ‘folk-foundation he shared with Moeran and the tart and dissonance-accommodating impressionism we hear in the piano music of Howard Ferguson.’ This is a fine description of much of this work. It is a superb example of the genre that should always be available - both on CD and in the concert hall.

This CD is based on mono recordings that are 60 years old. It would be asking too much to expect a brilliant sound. Yet the transfer to CD has been well-done. Not all the hiss has been removed, but that does not matter. Any short-coming in the sound quality is more than amply made up for in the generally superb playing by Iris Loveridge. One can only imagine that when these recordings were originally made they were exceptional for their day.
Other editions of Moeran’s piano music exist on CD. Eric Parkin’s contribution to the Lyrita catalogue is complementary to the Loveridge recital –t here are no ‘overlapping’ pieces. Parkin went on to record the complete works on Ismeron JMSCD2 and Una Hunt has issued a similar collection on ASV CD DCA 1138. Since this review was originally written, Duncan Honeybourne has issued the complete piano works on EM CD0012-13. The present recording of the Jacob Sonata would appear, as noted above, to be the only one.
Yet for my money Iris Loveridge adds considerable value to any collection of Moeran piano music. Her style and her sympathy with the composer are self evident. I would not wish to be without this present recording. 

Track Listing:
Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950) 
Irish Love Song (1926) 
Theme and Variations (1920) 
On a May Morning (1921)
Three Fancies (Windmills; Elegy; Burlesque) (1922) 
Summer Valley (1925) 
Three Piano Pieces (The Lake Island; Autumn Woods; At the Horse Fair) (1919) 
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984) 
Piano Sonata (1957) 
Iris Loveridge (piano) 
rec. The Music Room, July 1958, May 1959 (Moeran); 26 June 1958 (Jacob). Mono. ADD. 
first issued on LP as RCS 3 (Moeran); RCS 2 (Jacob). 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.