Sunday 27 February 2022

Percy Whitlock: Music for Orchestra (1941)

Percy Whitlock’s (1903-46) Music for Orchestra was completed in 1941. This is a compilation of re-cycled music from different periods of the composer’s life. The first movement is called Peter’s Tune. This is better known to those who haunt the organ loft as the Allegretto from the ever popular Five Pieces for Organ which was composed during his last year at Rochester in 1929. The tune was based on the whistling of a chorister, a certain Peter Burney. The piece opens with dotted quavers in 4/8 time, and swings along in a wistful manner. This rhythm is heard virtually throughout the piece in varying guises and at slightly different tempi. It is one of the finest miniatures to come from the composer’s pen. The orchestral version complements the original organ edition admirably, with a subtle sense of light and shade. A true gem. 

The Caprice is almost quicksilver. It was worked out some time before the war began. In some ways it is a miniature ‘organ concerto.’ The orchestra plays passages ‘antiphonally’ which gives the piece a sense of drive and direction. The material is slightly darker than the title may suggest; it is certainly not a ‘humorous’ piece as the dictionary definition of the title may suggest. 

The Reverie again has an integral organ part; it began life as the third movement of Three Pieces for Organ and Strings (1927). However, although there are some attractive passages, there is a slight problem with the balance between the organ and orchestra. Not tonally, but certainly structural. There is a sense here of organ then band: organ then band. 

The last piece is interesting. It is in a little world of its own. The Fanfare on the tune Song of Agincourt was written in 1940. Whitlock had heard the song on the radio and his wife, Edna, suggested he write a piece based on the tune. The harmonies in this piece are quite different to much that has come from Whitlock’s pen. Parts of it suggest quite a ‘warlike’ felling. The use of parallel harmonies reminiscent of Vaughan Williams less-pastoral moments. Or it is the spareness of a pseudo ‘sackbut and drum’ sound which makes this piece sound as it does. Once again the music is presented antiphonally. The organ playing the ‘tune’ or ‘chorale’ and the orchestra commenting. It makes a good finish to this collection of disparate music. The Suite lacks coherence between the movements that makes this is the least convincing of the larger works which we can listen to on this CD.

Percy Whitlock’s Music for Orchestra is available on Marco Polo 8.225162. Malcolm Riley plays the organ obligato and RTE Concert Orchestra is conducted by Gavin Sutherland.

Thursday 24 February 2022

Ruth Gipps Chamber Music on Prima Facie

I acknowledge the excellent liner notes essential to my writing this review. I shamelessly crib from them. All seven compositions are new to me, and I have been unable to find other sources of information. Four are “world premiere recordings.” For details of Ruth Gipps’s life and achievement, see Pamela Blevins’s interesting essay.   

I listened to this CD chronologically. The earliest also happens to be Ruth Gipps’s first published work. The Fairy Shoemaker (1929) was written when she was only eight years old, and it won a prize at the Brighton Festival. Sadly, the press accused her mother Helene of having penned it for her daughter. Duncan Honeybourne writes that “A mere trifle this slender piece may be, but it is engagingly descriptive and imaginative. Whilst childlike, in the sense of being direct and unsophisticated, it surely reveals a nascent musicianship of the highest order.” It is presented in ternary form and matches charm with contrast. This is certainly more complete and satisfying than The Robin’s Nest composed by her teacher Ralph Vaughan Willaims, when he was six years old.

Thirty-six years later, Ruth Gipps wrote her Theme and Variations, op. 57a (1965). The theme is taken from the third movement of her Symphony No.3, op.57 which dates from the same year. The working out of this idea is clever and utterly pianistic in manner. There is much interest in the six variations, with “rippling keyboard figurations,” an acerbic little march and a restrained climax. The coda brings this lovely and thoughtful essay to a wistful and inconclusive ending. Theme and Variations was written especially for the young British pianist Eileen Broster. Broster was also to premiere Gipps’s Piano Concerto with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra in 1972.

The Sonata for cello and piano was completed in 1978 and is dedicated to the cellist Loraine Nagioff. For unknown reasons, it took Nagioff three years before it was premiered on 28 February 1981 at Purley. This is the most stylish essay on this CD: it highlights Ruth Gipps’s maturity and confidence. Despite being intense and dramatic in places, this Sonata is straightforward. Honeybourne points out the dichotomy between the “infectiously spiky” elements of this piece, and the pastoral musings of the threnodic middle Andantino. There is, overall, a studied balance in this sonata between lyricism and edgy rhythmic zest.

Joseph Spooner reminds the listener that the Scherzo and Adagio for Unaccompanied Cello, op. 68, is one of very few works that Gipps wrote for a solo instrument. Dating from 1987, it was dedicated to the cellist David Johnstone. Its genesis was that “Johnstone had been asked to programme a concert at St John’s, Smith Square, with music from the ’80s of different centuries; he approached Gipps for a piece, and she was taken with the idea.”  The structure is straightforward. After the brief Scherzo, which manages to be “skittish” and “wistful” at the same time, the adagio follows. This is sad music, with something of a Celtic mother calling to her children far overseas. The jittery music returns, before it concludes with a lively coda. The difficult instrumental technique demanded of the soloist requires every trick in the book. It is rewarding and sounds more impressive than its five-minute duration may suggest.

The following year Gipps wrote The Ox and the Ass: Introduction and Carol, op. 71 for double bass and piano. It exists in other versions, including for contra bassoon and with chamber orchestra. The work is based on a carol with words authored by the composer: “The first of His disciples attended at His birth/And watched with gentle eyes their Saviour born on earth…”  Gipps uses the two instruments to paint a musical picture of the text. There is no doubt that it is inspired by the folksong/modal character of Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is “tonal, traditional and very accessible.”

Opalescence, op. 72 (1989) is my favourite number on this CD and is one of my minor discoveries of 2021. It is remarkable for its impressionism. The title is defined as “reflecting an iridescent light.” Merriam’s Dictionary describes the word well as “a lustrous rainbowlike play of colour caused by differential refraction of light waves (as from an oil slick, soap bubble, or fish scales) that tends to change as the angle of view changes.” This is complex and virtuosic music that Honeybourne describes as being “gratefully pianistic.” Certainly the balance between chromaticism, dense chords, and intricate figurations makes this tone poem a perfect manifestation of the title. It was dedicated to the American pianist Selma Epstein. 

The latest piece on this disc is the remarkable Sonata for Double Bass and Piano, op. 81, completed in 1996, just three years before Gipps’s death. It was her final composition. The present soloist explains in the liner notes that he had asked her for a new double bass piece.

What captured my ear was the idiomatic writing for the instrument. Gipps had confessed to David Heyes that she had “come to the conclusion that after studying music for 71 years my ignorance about the double bass would fill a book.” It was a self-deprecating statement. A lot of the work’s progress uses the lower register of the bass. Yet this is not lumbering music: the lyrical and cantabile nature is always to the fore. There is not a surfeit of harmonics, trying to make the instrument what it is not meant to be. There is some pizzicato, especially in the “jaunty” final movement. Here and there a welcome jazzy mood emerges.

The programme notes are correct in stating that this Sonata gives the double bass equal billing to the piano. It should be in the repertoire of all bassists.

The three performers bring extraordinary talent and enthusiasm to this repertoire. The sound quality of the recording is bright and immediate. The liner notes are written mainly by Duncan Honeybourne but include contributions from David Heyes and Joseph Spooner. They are informative and detailed and provides everything the listener needs to know about this diverse music. The artwork on the CD gatefold cover is by Steve Plews, Prima Facie’s record producer: it is a vibrant, abstract oil painting of Ruth Gipps conducting. One thing, at fifty-two minutes duration, this CD is a wee bitty short. Surely another couple of pieces could have been squeezed in. How about the Kensington Garden Suite for oboe and piano, op. 2 (1938) or the Sea-Shore Suite for oboe and piano, op. 3b dating from 1939? Or maybe the evocative sounding Sea Nymph, ballet for two pianos op. 14 (1941)?

This “Centenary” release of Gipps’s music is a valuable addition to the growing (slowly) inventory of her recorded music. Looking at her catalogue reveals much still to do.

Track Listing:
Ruth GIPPS (1921-99)

Sonata for cello and piano, op. 63 (1978)
The Fairy Shoemaker (1929)
Theme and Variations, op. 57a (1965)
The Ox and the Ass: Introduction and Carol, op. 71 (1988)
Opalescence, op. 72 (1989
Scherzo and Adagio for Unaccompanied Cello, op. 68 (1987)
Sonata for Double Bass and piano, op. 81 (1996)
Joseph Spooner (cello), David Heyes (double bass), Duncan Honeybourne (piano)
rec. 25 October 2020 (Cello Sonata, works for solo piano), 28 March 2021 (Scherzo and Adagio), Holy Trinity Church, Hereford and 27 July 2021 Cheap Street Church, Sherborne, Dorset (works for double bass).

Monday 21 February 2022

Adam Carse: Two Sketches for string orchestra (1921)

The North Country composer Adam Carse (Adam Von Ahnen Carse) is best recalled for his penchant for studying and collecting wind instruments. In 1947, he donated some 350 antique examples to the Horneman Museum in Forest Hill, London. Yet, he was also a considerable composer. His catalogue includes five symphonies, an orchestral Prelude on Byron’s Manfred, several works for string orchestra, as well as countless publications for young instrumentalists and pianists. He authored several books on the history of the orchestra. 

Carse was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 19 May 1878. After study at the Royal Academy of Music, with Frederick Corder, he gained the MacFarren Scholarship. He later became Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint at that institution, remaining in the post until his retirement in 1940. Adam Carse died on 2 November 1958.

The Two Sketches are contrasting in mood. However, the instrumental form is similar. In both pieces Carse makes use of individual players, groups of soloists and the full string band. The opening number, A Northern Song, has been likened to elements of Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody No.1. This atmospheric music is created by muted strings. An unidentified folk-like tune emerges from the misty background. This is melancholy music that muses on the lonely moors of Northumberland. The second piece, A Northern Dance is warmer in tone. It is almost a perpetuum mobile in the unremitting use of semiquavers. Carse introduces a delightful contrasting melody on the violas. Effective pizzicato adds to the sense of momentum, before the big tune is reprised. The piece end with an “ebullient conclusion.”

The premiere of Adam Carse’s Two Sketches for string orchestra was during a Promenade Concert on 4 September 1924. The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra was conducted by the composer for this number. It came in the second half of a long-winded and unstructured concert. The major works that evening were Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Edvard Grieg’s ubiquitous Piano Concerto in A minor. Carse’s new pieces were sandwiched between Weber’s Euryanthe Overture and a whimsical song “Follow the Fairies” by Cecil Baumer.

Reviews the following morning were positive. The Times (5 September 1924, p.8) reckoned that following an unbalanced performance of Busoni’s Rondò arlecchinesco, op. 46, Carse’s Two Sketches meant that “the air was completely cleared.”  The critic points out that the music is based on Northumberland folk-music in which Mr Carse has managed to transmute his material into an artistic product, not just dishing it up, more or less raw, with some sort of accompaniment for sauce.” Finally, they felt that “the two pieces are closely knit in texture, and well-contrasted, and thoroughly deserved the applause with which they were received.”

In a syndicated review in the Aberdeen Press and Journal (05 September 1924, p.6) the critic remarked that “A Northern Song was strongly coloured with the prevailing note of melancholy and even gloom so characteristic of some parts of Northumberland, while the other, A Northern Dance, is full of healthy vitality.” Moreover, his Two Sketches “made a most excellent impression.”

There was a long review in the Manchester Guardian (8 September 1924, p.10). E.B. (probably Eric Blom) wrote that “Mr Adam Carse…is an agreeably unpretentious composer. These two pieces…are quite small music, but one feels that the composer is aware of the fact and does not mean to let them pose as anything big. They are like simple, kindly folk whom one admires for speaking just the sort of unaffected language one expects of them.” A touch patronising, but we get the point.

Adam Carse’s Two Sketches were released by Naxos on English String Miniatures, Volume 4 in 2002. David Lloyd-Jones conducted the Northern Sinfonia. Other works on this CD include Peter Hope’s Momentum Suite, Paul Lewis’s English Suite, Gustav Holst’s Moorside Suite and Ernest Tomlinson’s Graceful Dance.

Friday 18 February 2022

Mátyás Seiber: Orchestral Works; Works for Violin & Piano

This is a fantastic addition to the sadly limited number of CDs and records devoted to émigré composer Mátyás Seiber. Most of these works have received an earlier recording, but I think that the Sinfonietta for string orchestra is a first. 

The booklet notes (in German and English) by Soma Mihály Sipos are good. He does tend to concentrate on the sitz im leben and reception, rather than giving the listener a clue as to what the music sounds like. There are the usual biographies of the soloists and the orchestra, but no overview of the composer. Hänssler have included photos of the musicians. Alas, the cover artwork seems to me to be lacking in impact.

The liner notes give precious few details about the Sinfonietta for string orchestra (1924/1964). It does mention that this was an arrangement of Seiber’s String Quartet No.1 written in Hungary around 1924. Although the booklet mentions that Antal Dorati made this transcription for string orchestra, it fails to mention that it completed in 1964, four years after Seiber’s fatal accident. It was premiered on 9 September 1964, during a radio broadcast from Melbourne, Australia. The work was influenced by his teacher Zoltan Kodály. Another clear influence is Hungarian folk music. Much of the texture is based on the pentatonic scale (black notes, piano) in various transpositions. The vibrant opening Maestoso-allegro moderato is written in sonata form with engaging themes. Despite Seiber’s youthful impulse, the slow movement shows considerable reserve and subtlety of thought. This elegiac music is truly lovely. The final rondo returns to his Hungarian roots, with a great contrast of ideas.  This is a magnificent work: one of my discoveries of 2021. Despite it not majoring on Seiber’s trademark permutations and serial manipulations, it provides a prophecy of the music that was to follow in his later career. It should be essential repertoire for all orchestras and would make a great opening piece at any concert. 

In 1935, Mátyás Seiber immigrated to England from Germany where his interest in teaching jazz in the Hochschule had sparked Nazi disapproval. In London, he worked in a publishing house, taught, and founded the Dorian Singers. In 1940, Seiber produced his Besardo Suite No.1 for full orchestra. To my knowledge this is not yet recorded. The Besardo Suite No.2 was completed in 1942. At that time, he was teaching at Morley College. The Suite was premiered by the Boyd Neel Orchestra at the Wigmore Hall on 3 December 1945. The tunes used were inspired by 16th/17th century Burgundian composer, Jean-Baptiste Bésard’s collection the Thesaurus Harmonicus, published in 1603. The Suite has six movements: 1. Intrada, 2. Guillemette - Chorea Rustica 3. Galliarda Dolorata, 4. Branle Commun, 5. Madrigale and 6. Cournate de Guerre - Canaries. It is helpful to note that the movements are arranged in a slow-fast sequence. The impact of this piece is much like Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite and Ottorino Respighi’s three Suites of Ancient Airs and Dances, as well as his The Birds. It surprises me that it is not in the general repertoire of string orchestras and regularly heard on Classic fM. The Besardo Suite No.2 is also available Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7207), released in 2008. It is reviewed on MusicWeb International here

Another wartime composition is the Fantasia concertante for violin and string orchestra (1943-44). This is a good example of Seiber’s own personal adaptation of serialism. At its London premiere in 1945, an unattributed reviewer “sneeringly” suggested that it sounded “like all pieces produced in that technique.” (Cited in liner notes). This was surely a mishearing of a stunning success by a traditionalist critic. The open-minded listener will realise that Seiber uses the tone-row in a free manner, rather than being hidebound by it. The Fantasia could be a concerto if it were not for its sectional or mosaic construction. The faster segments nod to the rhythmic, motor driven vitality of Bartok as well as the dodecaphonic sound of Schoenberg. The Lento section presents a contrapuntal meditation that is lyrical and far removed from harshness or bleakness. Towards the end, Seiber introduces an impressive cadenza, leading to a gritty coda. The violin soloist provides a wide cross section of instrumental techniques here, including double-stopping, glissando and aggressive, fast-paced passage work. 

The remarkable Sonata for violin and piano was completed shortly before Seiber’s tragic death in 1960. It was a Cheltenham Festival commission. The listener will be immediately struck by its eclectic nature with three wildly contrasting movements. The first, Appassionato e rapsodica, is exhilarating and enthusiastic, indulging in various pyrotechnics for the fiddle. I am not sure if Seiber calls for improvisation, but there is certainly a wildness and unpredictability here. The second movement balances a stylish, but wayward, dance complete with pizzicato violin and staccato piano chords, offset by an errant scherzo. The last movement, with its slow, contemplative mood brings the entire Sonata to a quiet and rewarding conclusion. It is certainly a memorable “swansong” that ought to be in the repertoire of all violinists who perform mid-twentieth century music. Despite the modernist sound and (probable) use of a 12-note series, there is nothing intimidating here.

The Concert Piece for violin and piano written in 1954 is an uncompromising, serial creation. That said, Hans Keller (Musical Times, November 1955, p.582) has stated that "Like much of Schoenberg's own dodecaphony, Seiber's Concert Piece can be shown to offend against every single twelve-note rule while heeding the spirit of each." The exemplar may be Schoenberg's Phantasy for violin and piano, op. 47 (1949). The liner notes do not explain that this work consists of contrasted sections, which combined, create a well-balanced formal structure. Nor is the fact that it was composed applying Seiber’s newly developed permutation technique with four-note units. Rapid semiquavers, aggressive piano chords, and rapid changes of instrumental register are combined with beautiful lyrical moments. The writing for both instruments is stunning and often breath-taking. Despite the formal scaffolding, there is nothing here that suggests the pedantic. It is a great introduction to Mátyás Seiber’s concert music. Interestingly, the booklet explains that the young and then unknown Hungarian composer György Ligeti was seriously impressed with this piece (and other music by Seiber). This was at a time when “conservative” Soviet artistic strictures still applied in Hungary, so Ligeti could have been in trouble. Interestingly, the booklet explains that the young and then unknown Hungarian composer György Ligeti was seriously impressed with this piece (and other music by Seiber). This was at a time when “conservative” Soviet artistic strictures still applied in Hungary, so Ligeti could have been in trouble.

Every composition on this exciting new CD is stunning. The playing by all the performers is first class. It is enhanced by the superb sound engineering. I thoroughly enjoyed every bar of this sometimes challenging, but always musically satisfying, collection of works.

Track Listing:
Mátyás SEIBER (1905-60)

Sinfonietta for String Orchestra (arr. Antal DORÁTI (1908-88)) (1924/1964)
Besardo Suite No. 2 (1942)
Fantasia concertante for violin and string orchestra (1943-44)
Sonata for violin and piano (1960)
Concert Piece for violin and piano (1954)
Nina Karmon (violin), Oliver Triendl (piano)
Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn/Levente Török
Rec. 26-28 May 2021, Sulmtalhalle Erlenbach, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; 10-11 August, 2021 Studio Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany (Sonata)
Hänssler HC21043
With thanks to MusicWeb international where this review was first published.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

John Blackwood McEwen: String Quartet No.4 in C minor (1905)

John Blackwood McEwen’s String Quartet No. 4 in C minor dates from 1905. This is an adventurous work for its era. It certainly defies any complaint that McEwen was somehow writing music that was parochially Scottish. One can agree with the writer of the programme notes by Levon Chilingirian, written for the Chandos recording, that there are echoes of Bartók - at least in the first movement. There is an intensity and depth, which sets this work above much British and European chamber music that was being composed at this time. McEwen was absorbing a variety of styles at home and abroad. As with much of his music there is a definite bittersweetness about it.

The opening Allegro ma non troppo is both vigorous and discursive. The first subject is “grim in its severity” but is balanced by an “expressive” second subject. The movement ends with a pianissimo Lento passage. The scherzo, a ‘Vivace’ is sardonic in mood. Although the harmonies are not outrageous, there is a strong feel of dissonance to this moto perpetuo. There is little relief in the trio section. The third movement, an Andante espressivo begins with an impassioned theme with a Scottish feel to it, complete with “Scotch Snaps.” However, this is not pastiche. The mood changes into a very chromatic and intense meditation on this idea. There is an air of sadness here: a lament if ever there was one. The last movement is a kind of “double rondo.” It is typically “a high-spirited romp,” despite opening with a “declamatory larghetto.” This is not the rondo theme as such, even though it recurs twice more. The main Vivace subject is first heard on the viola and is repeated with considerable development throughout the movement. The coda allows the opening theme to catch up with the bustling semiquavers.

There is no doubt that this is fine music. How it can languish from the concert halls is a complete mystery to me. It is a masterpiece of balance between the Scottish idiom and the broader Western musical tradition.

The Quartet was premiered at a concert organised by the Incorporated Society of Musicians on Saturday 11 December at the “small” Queen’s Hall in London. It was devoted to British composers. The ensemble featured Arthur Payne, Ernest Yonge, C.H. Woodhouse and J.E. Hambleton. Another premiere that day was the Suite for Pianoforte in E flat, op.30, 1910 (now known as the Suite No.2) by York Bowen, played by the composer. A mixed bag of other music included songs by the forgotten composer Lewis Carey, sung by Miss Lucie Johnstone. Recitations were given by Jessie Henderson Matthay, accompanied by Stanley Hawley on the piano. The final important work was the Sonata for viola and piano, op.15 by W.H. Bell, which has totally disappeared from the repertoire.

The Times (13 December 1909, p.9) reported that McEwen’s new quartet was “not as genial as the two earlier quartets, but its finale had a good deal of spirit.” Equally tepid was the review in the Daily Telegraph (13 December 1909, p.7) where the critic thought that it was “chiefly remarkable for its lack of melody and synthetic continuity,” and that it is “modern in feeling, at least as regards tonality – or absence of it.”

The Musical Times (January 1910, p.25) reported that McEwen’s Quartet featured “the customary wealth of device that has always distinguished his work, and with a full grasp of his material, only lessened by a tendency to relapse into the least desirable characteristic of Continental music of the new school.” Less likely a reference to Bela Bartok, whose String Quartet No.1 was premiered in January 1910, but possibly Arnold Schoenberg. The Austrian composer’s String Quartet No.1, written around the same time as McEwen’s No.4, had stretched tonality to its limit and in his String Quartet No.2 (1908) he not only introduced a soprano into the third and fourth movements, but “new sounds were produced, a new kind of melody appeared, a new approach to expression of moods and characters was discovered.”

McEwen’s Quartet was dedicated to Mrs Rachel Henry (Henrey) Cheetham, née Shorrock. Nothing is known about this lady, (someone somewhere will tell me about her), except the she was born in Darwen, Lancashire, attended Denmark Hill School in Lambeth, and was married to William Henry Cheetham on 15 May 1879. The 1911 census shows the couple living in Mottingham, Kent. William is recorded as being an East India merchant. She died during 1916.

The first broadcast of the Quartet was on 15 June 1928, on the BBC. The Virtuoso String Quartet played in the Aeolian Hall.

The String Quartet No.4 in C minor was released on Chandos Record label (CHAN 9926) in 2002. The Chilingirian Quartet also include the Quartet No. 16 Quartette Provençale (1936), the Quartet for Strings No.7 Threnody (1916) and the Fantasia for String Quartet No. 17 (1947).

Saturday 12 February 2022

Exploring Ruth Gipps’s Cringlemire Gardens, Impression for string orchestra, op.39 (1952)

Cringlemire Gardens Summerhouse

A recent discovery for me was Ruth Gipps’s (1921-99) short Cringlemire Gardens, Impression for string orchestra, op.39 (1952). It is written in a pastoral idiom, with considerable depth and a surprising power of evoking a particular landscape. This short essay attempts to put the work in context, report on its premiere, and give a paradigm for listening.

Ruth Gipps had not been overly busy from a compositional perspective in the early 1950s. The present piece was one of two offerings made during 1952. The other was Virgin Mountain, ballet music for orchestra, op.38. The previous year saw only The Song of Narcissus, (from 1001 Nights) for soprano and piano, op.37, which remained unperformed until 1986. To be sure, the recent oratorio The Prophet, op.35 setting texts by Kahil Gibran and others, dating from 1950, was a massive opus, lasting for an hour. This had been commissioned for the BBC Third Programme but was never performed there, and no payment was received. More successful was Gipps’s Conversation for two pianos, op.36, which was first heard at the Wigmore Hall on 3 January 1951, played by Hélène Gipps (Ruth’s mother) and Mary Mollison. Two years later, (1953) Gipps completed Goblin Market for two sopranos, women’s voices and orchestra, op.40. It is a setting of Christina Rossetti’s well-loved poem. This had to wait three years before being premiered in Newcastle-under-Lyme on 9 February 1956. Another work dating from 1953 was the Coronation Procession, op.41. It was first given in Melbourne, Australia on 27 September 1954, more than a year after the event. (Halstead, 2006, p.170f).

Where are Cringlemire Gardens? They are located about one mile west of Langdale Chase near Troutbeck, in the Lake District. Cringlemire was built during the 1890s for Henry Martin by the architect Dan Gibson. The Old Cumbria Gazetteer notes that “The gardens were consciously designed as an arboriculture museum by Thomas H Mawson, Robert Mawson and Dan Gibson, and were sheltered by conifers; Mr Martin was a noted plant collector.” The summer house (shown above) was illustrated in The Art and Craft of Garden Making written by Thomas Mawson. (Batsford, 1926, p.151).

Cringlemire Garden is a short work, lasting about six minutes. It is subtitled an “Impression for string orchestra.” Despite its diminutive duration, this is a full-blown tone-poem. It evokes the thoughts of someone sitting in the garden surrounded by the romantic landscape of the Lake District. Further research is needed on Ruth Gipps’s travels to Cumbria. Typically, the inspiration for many of Gipps’s compositions was the south-east of England. (Halstead, 2006, p.105). Examples cited include the Sea-Shore Suite, op.3b for oboe and piano (1939) and the Wealden Suite, op.76 for four clarinets (1991) both of which cry out for rediscovery. Halstead further states that Gipps’s had a “passion for a simpler way of life, close to nature…[her] inspiration came from the small and mundane details of her environment.” In her music, “landscapes are miniaturized and tamed, resulting in a large number of evocative pieces based on the everyday, often un-regarded aspects of the English landscape.” (Halstead, op.cit.). Examples include Rowan for flute and piano, op.12a (1940), the Sea-Weed Song for cor anglais and piano, op.12c (1940), The Pony Cart for flute, horn and piano, op.75 (1990) and Cool Running Water for bass flute and piano, op.77 (1991).

The progress of Cringlemire Gardens is in two sections. The first, an Andante, opens thoughtfully, with several string solos “musing” on an English folk song, which would seem to be The Raggle Taggle Gypsies. (Foreman 2021). This is written in the relatively unusual time-signature of 5/4. It is reflective music, with just the hint of passion. Suddenly, at the halfway point the mood and pace of the music changes. Not necessarily light-hearted, but certainly becoming more animated. This sense of movement is underpinned by the 7/8 time-signature. Rich and intense string chords lead towards a reprise of the opening theme. Here the solo cello and muted viola restore a sense of calm and repose. There is a little pizzicato on the cello, and then a quiet chord played by the strings, bringing this Impression to a peaceful conclusion.

It is no surprise that the arboretum at Cringlemire appealed to her: sitting in the summer house must have been a magical treat. It would be fascinating to find out if she were a guest here, or simply a visitor.

Jill Halstead (2006, p.171) in the “list of works,” details the premiere performance of Cringlemire Gardens at the Birmingham Town Hall on 20 February 1952. The composer conducted the New Midland Orchestra.

John Thorpe (Birmingham Gazette, 14 January 1952, p.4) advertising the concert, reported that a “work which helped to make Dr Ruth Gipps of Birmingham, one of Britain’s youngest doctors of music, is to be heard in its entirety for the first time.” This refers to The Cat, op.32 which was finished in 1947. It is scored for contralto and baritone soli, double chorus and orchestra. The piece is a setting of texts drawn from the apocryphal The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, Algeron Charles Swinburne, Michael Joseph and Christopher Smart. The Cat was accepted by Durham University, and she was awarded D.Mus. The Overture of this work had been performed on 14 October 1948 at the Birmingham Town Hall, by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under George Weldon.

The Stage (6 March 1952, p.12) reports that “all but two of the items played at the [20th February] concert were unfamiliar.” Further “it was thoughtful of Dr Gipps to arrange her programme so that the listener could trace her development from her early twenties, with such items as the symphonic sketch Death on the Pale Horse [op.25 (1943)] and her Violin Concerto [in B flat, op.24 (1943)] through to the full-scale choral work The Cat.” The critic thought that her earlier works “lack a rhythmic vitality and are not melodically memorable,” however there is considerable development of these qualities in The Cat and “in the more recent Cringlemire Garden, an ‘impression’ for strings, a free ternary form is used to produce effective melodic and rhythmic contrast.”

Unfortunately, the reviewer of the concert at the Birmingham Gazette (21 February 1952, p.4) did not mention Gipps’s Cringlemire Gardens. However, an overall impression of the concert was given. R.R. wrote that the “progress” of Gipps’s compositions “shows a marked firmness in the handling of orchestral writing which is always lucid and informed by authority.”  On the other hand where, “Dr Gipps fails the listener most is in melodic invention” and “too many of her ideas lack that memorable quality by which new music imprints itself on the mind.”  The playing was successful and was performed with “sincerity and artistry,” but the New Midland Orchestra suffered by “being underweight in strings.”

Ruth Gipps’s Cringlemire Garden was issued on the CPO label (555457-2) on the third volume of British Music for Strings. Douglas Bostock conducts the West German Chamber Orchestra Pforzheim. Other music on this remarkable CD includes Ethel Smyth’s Suite for strings, op.1a (1883/1890), Susan Spain-Dunk’s Suite for string orchestra (1920) and her Lament (1934), and Constance Warren’s Heather Hill (c.1930). So far, (05/01/2022) there are no reviews of this disc in the music media. Cringlemire Gardens has been uploaded to YouTube.

Foreman, Lewis, Liner Notes CPO (555457-2), 2021.
Halstead, Jill, Ruth Gipps: Anti-Modernism, Nationalism and Difference in English Music. (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006)
Files of The Stage, Birmingham Gazette etc.

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Elisabeth Lutyens: Piano Music Volume 1

One of the recurring features of previous reviews of this CD (The Guardian and MusicWeb International) is the pointed fact that although great emphasis is being made by the media and concert promoters on playing “classical” music by women composers, these tend to be contemporary - alive today. Despite this rhetoric, few works are heard by a generation of composers from the mid to late 20th century. These notables include Priaulx Rainier, Elizabeth Maconchy, Doreen Carwithen, Grace Williams and Elisabeth Lutyens. Gary Higginson has suggested that they may “scare the horses” if played too often, so are best avoided. This is especially the case with the last named. 

There is no doubt that Lutyens music is challenging, uncompromising and sometimes just hard work. For enthusiasts of British music, it is a million miles away from much of the received repertoire. But as Gary Higginson says wisely in his review, it is possible to like Lutyens and Finzi.

I am grateful to Nigel Simeone’s liner notes in my preparation of this review. The earliest piece on this disc is Plenum I, op.87 (not op.86 as stated in the text) completed in 1972. This was the first of four pieces devised for various instrumental forces. (Plenum II is for oboe and thirteen instruments, Plenum III for string quartet and Plenum IV for organ duet). “Plenum” is the Latin word for “fullness.” And this is appropriate. Lutyens once wrote that the title implied “Plenum Spatium – a space completely filled with matter…in musical terms, silence filled, emptied and refilled with sound.”

Three interesting points: the work has no bar lines, the entire piece is an example of a palindrome, one of her preferred formal devices, and there is a limited use of extended playing techniques such as “plucking or stopping the piano strings by hand.”

The best description of what the music sounds like is a “static soundscape,” where silence is as important as the notes. It is a truly beautiful work.

The Five Impromptus, op.116, dates from 1977. They were written for the Australian pianist Roger Woodward, who does not seem to have played them. Once again, there are no bar lines, thus allowing the pianist considerable rhythmic flexibility in their interpretation. It is suggested that the underlying structure may be a “compressed sonata” with “a discursive opening movement of accelerations and slowings-down, and a brief succession of quiet chords functioning as a central slow episode.”  If this analysis is correct, the complete set of Impromptus must be heard in the order written – and not excerpted. It is easy to describe these pieces as “gritty,” however, there is more than this. It is approachable and presents interesting and sometimes ravishing sounds. Anton Webern may be the inspiration behind this piece. This is a magical work that suspends time. There are moments of repose, and even the odd hint of a common chord.

The next work chronologically, are the Seven Preludes, op.126, commissioned by Jeremy Brown, and first performed by him in 1978. Several commentators have noted the influence of Claude Debussy in these pages. Lutyens herself had stated that her own music sat within the tradition of “French clarity” over “German expressionism.” Certainly, she had revolted against the diet of Brahms she had endured at the Royal College of Music! Like Debussy’s eponymous work, Lutyens’s Preludes are prefaced with a “descriptive subtitle” placed at the conclusion of each number. These were taken from John Keats’s writings. Examples are Strange Thunders from the Potency of Song, The Shifting of Mighty Winds That Blow Hither and Thither All the Changing Thoughts of Man and Starlight. There is a good balance in these pieces between an incipient impressionism, vigorous energy, and a despondent lyricism.

The Great Seas, op.132 (1979) is a major work by any stretch of the imagination. It is a long piece, lasting for seventeen minutes. In it, Lutyens explores her emotional response to the oceans in all their moods. To what extent her twelve-tone technique is clear in this piece, I am not sure. There does seem to be considerable flexibility in the planned progress of this music. The liner notes suggest that the “note rows were less closely tied to close-knit formal structures” than her earlier music. There is a timeless atmosphere here: one feels that it could go on for ever.

The latest piece on this disc is La natura dell’Acqua (The Nature of Water), op.154, written in 1981. It was to be her final work for the piano. Once again, silence here is as important as the written notes. At times, the music sounds like a monody, but here and there she introduces chords of varying density. Sometimes, just single notes are played and decay. The aesthetic behind this beautiful piece is artistic. Lutyens wrote “If you look at five paintings Turner did of the same subject, the first is lush and naturalistic, the one he did late in life you can hardly see what it is. It’s like late Cezanne. I’ve noticed that with old age – with certain exceptions – people know what to leave out. There is just the skeleton.”

Martin Jones is an ideal interpreter of these revelatory, and often enigmatic pieces. He brings a deep understanding and sympathy to this music, which rubs off on the listener.

The liner notes are excellent and make essential reading for anyone who wishes to enjoy (yes, I did say enjoy) these remarkable works.

There is nothing to fear in this CD. Despite Elisabeth Lutyens’s anecdotal fearsomeness in nature and in her work, all these pieces are approachable, even to listeners who do enjoy her despised “cowpat” school of music. I would suggest that if you like Debussy and early Messiaen you will enjoy virtually everything in this recital. And one last thought. In some of her documentary film scores, Twelve Tone Lizzie herself resorted to cow-and-gate pastoralism,

I hope that this CD is genuinely the first of several explorations of Elisabeth Lutyens piano music – both published and in manuscript.

Track Listing:
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-83)

Seven Preludes for piano, op.126, (1978)
The Great Seas, op.132 (1979)
Five Impromptus, op.116 (1977)
Plenum I, op.87 (1972)
La natura dell’Acqua, op.154 (1981)
Martin Jones (piano)
Rec. 28 April 2021, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this CD was first published.

Sunday 6 February 2022

Constance Warren and her Heather Hill for string orchestra

Constance Warren’s Heather Hill (c.1930) for string orchestra was one of my discoveries of 2021. This is an immensely satisfying piece that shows great promise and technical aplomb. Sadly, there is little critical commentary of her life and achievement. I was unable to find any contemporary reviews of the premiere of this work. 

A few words about the composer. I am grateful to Michael Jones and Lewis Foreman for much of the biographical information given here. Constance Jessie Warren was born on 12 August 1905, at 26 Oakwood Road, Sparkhill, Yardley, near Birmingham. (WebTree). Her father, Benjamin Warren (1878-1974), was an artist, teaching at the Birmingham Central College of Art and Design, and her mother, Jessie, née Bridgens, was a professional pianist. The 1911 census shows her as being also a teacher and a professor of music. After piano lessons from her mother, Constance achieved her LRAM, aged only eighteen years. She then studied with Maria Levinskaya in London, later winning the Josephine Troup Composition Scholarship. This enabled her to study at the Royal Academy of Music (R.A.M.) with York Bowen and Benjamin Dale, whilst continuing piano studies with the young Clifford Curzon.

During this time, she wrote several works, including a Nocturne for orchestra which was taken up by Henry Wood. Equally successful was her String Quartet in B minor, premiered (in full) by the Griller Quartet on 1 December 1931 (Musical Times, January 1932, p.65). On 18 March 1931, a single movement had been performed at the R.A.M., also by the Griller Quartet. Sadly, on her return to Birmingham to further her career as a freelance teacher, she gave up all composing. During the 1930s, Warren gave many piano recitals, sometimes playing two-piano duets with her mother. In 1942, she joined the faculty at the Birmingham School of Music, now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Warren was later appointed Head of Keyboard Studies there. She retired from this post in 1970 but retained her private pupils until her death. Constance Warren died from heart failure on 16 October 1984 at Mosley, in Birmingham.

Her few published compositions comprise Two Pieces for flute and piano and Three Little Pieces for piano. There is an autograph copy of her Fantasy for viola and piano deposited in the Bernard Shore Collection at the Royal College of Music. The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire hold several other pieces in manuscript in their Warren Collection.

One piece not included in the archive is the Lament for cello. It was premiered at the Duke’s Hall, R.A.M. on 1 December 1930. The unsigned critic described it as “simple and tuneful: wisely so because it is therefore likely to find favour with a publisher for sale to teachers.” The Era (10 December 1930, p.5). It was never published. In 1985, the pianist Michael Jones, typeset her Ballade for cello and piano. It was heard for the first time in recent years during a Memorial Concert in the Recital Hall, at the Birmingham School of Music on 12 May 1985.

Stylistically, in a review published in The Era (25 February 1931, p.9) of a concert given at the R.A.M., the critic wrote that Warren “may write quite nicely for piano when she ceases to worship Debussy.” No mention of what the work was, but an interesting comment indeed.

Lewis Foreman (Liner Notes CPO 555457-2) explains that all Warren’s compositions date from when she was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, suggesting that Heather Hill was completed between 1929 and 1932.

In digression, there is a tantalising review in the Birmingham Daily Post (18 April 1940, p.10) of a Max Mossel Club Concert given the previous evening. Three unfamiliar compositions were given: Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, a Concerto for cello and strings by C.P.E. Bach, and “a new [my italics] string quintet in B minor by a member, Constance Warren.”  The critic thought that: “it is a work without very pronounced individuality of style, but more than competently – in fact excellently – written and full of rich sonority. In the first two movements Miss Warren keeps her music going too easily perhaps, using repetitions of phrase, either note for note or by sequence, but this rather mechanical device all but disappears from the quietly beautiful slow movement onwards.”

It remains to be discovered if this Quintet was a late offering that defies Foreman’s contention that Warren ceased composing when she left the R.A.M. in 1932. Or was it a forgotten essay from her student days? Interestingly, it is in the same key as her 1931 String Quartet. It may be a revision for quintet or even a misprint in the newspaper.

The title Heather Hill is elusive, with the listener having to make up their mind as to whether this miniature tone poem evokes a Lake District or a Scottish landscape. That said, I detect little of a Celtic mood in this music. It could be nearer to home for Warren, on the Malvern Hills, perhaps? Until more details of her life and travels become available, listeners may well wish to imagine any heather clad eminence of their knowledge.

Structurally, Heather Hill is composed in a straightforward ternary form (ABA). It is scored for strings with a strong and rich texture. This presents a good balance between rich harmonies and some “open” passages for solo instruments. The work commences with a deeply pensive lento theme which is recapitulated at the conclusion. The middle section, Piu Mosso, brings a little more movement, rising to a short climax, but even here the music never ceases to be contemplative. Stylistically, Heather Hill reflects a pastoral vein, with nothing modernist or experimental. It is quite possible that an innocent listener may imagine that it was a fugitive piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams or Gerald Finzi. There is a depth and sadness in this music that is remarkable for a 25-year-old.

During 2016, Philip Ellis and the West Forest Sinfonia presented a programme of pieces by English composers performed at Hardwick Hall, the Abbey School, Reading. The critic in the Henley Standard (18 April 2016) noted that Warren’s Heather Hill, “is full of sumptuous string writing, reminiscent of Delius. The orchestra here produced ravishing sounds with a particularly magical ending. In the words of [the] conductor…: “What a loss we don’t hear more of Constance Warren.” Other works played at this remarkable concert included Frank Bridge’s Valse Intermezzo in E minor, Kenneth Leighton’s ravishing Suite Veri, op 9, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in E minor, Adam Carse’s Two Sketches and finally Gustav Holst’s A Moorside Suite.

Constance Warren’s Heather Hill was issued on the CPO label on the third volume of British Music for strings: Douglas Bostock conducts the West German Chamber Orchestra Pforzheim. Other music on this remarkable CD includes Ethel Smyth’s Suite for strings, op.1a, Susan Spain-Dunk’s Suite in B minor for string orchestra and her Lament, and finally Cringlemire Garden, op.39, by Ruth Gipps. So far (03/01/2022), there are no reviews of this disc in the music media. Heather Hill has been uploaded to YouTube.

More investigation needs to be done to bring Constance Warren to the attention of British music enthusiasts. Further biographical details ought to be established. Some of her former pupils may be able to add to her story. If the scores of the Nocturne and the String Quartet can be edited, then they would be welcome, either on CD or in the concert hall. The English Music Festival may choose to explore some of her music. Duncan Honeybourne has already issued her Idyll in G flat, for solo piano. (Grand Piano GP 789). Certainly, the Ballade for cello and piano, and the Three Flute Pieces would undoubtedly make an interesting contribution to any recital. One would imagine that a sympathetic violist would wish to explore the holograph of the Fantasy for viola and piano.

With thanks to Michael Jones for permission to use the photograph of Constance Warren.

Thursday 3 February 2022

The Peter Jacobs Anthology: Twentieth Century British Piano

The background to this CD is straightforward. The booklet explains that Heritage records asked Peter Jacobs to “compile a sequence of British piano music hitherto unrecorded.” From a vast personal repertoire, he has selected nineteen works (some with several movements) by a good cross section of composers. The keen reader will note that some of this recital has been recorded before – sometimes more than once. But the uniqueness of this album is having these typically interesting pieces performed together. 

The proceedings opens with Martin Shaw’s romp, Roundabouts. I will take it as read that all key centres are touched on in its two-minute duration. Shaw is best recalled as a composer of songs, of which there are dozens. This little number is a rare treat. Arthur Bliss’s Polonaise from his Suite for piano (1925, not 1926, I think) is acerbic. The entire work is really a sonata in disguise. In this extract there are traces of Prokofiev and Stravinsky from Bliss’s “bad boy” days. Students of Virgil will recall that an “Eclogue” is a short pastoral poem, sometimes in the form of a dialogue between two people, often shepherds. Walter Leigh’s piece, written in 1940, is a gentle conversation between himself and his teacher Paul Hindemith. It has some beautiful counterpoint and spine-tingling melodic phrases. Calcutta-born John Mayer’s tribute to his birthplace is over in a flash. The first of the Three Pieces from Calcutta-Nagar (1993), In Chandni Chauk Street, is a fleeting portrait of a large street market, Kali Temple evokes a numinous atmosphere with a definite sense of prayer and incense. The final number is a rumbustious image of The River Hooghley, the holy river in Kolkata. Lots of movement here, whether of water or people. The full set are perfect miniatures.

I love Roger Quilter’s evocative Summer Evening (1916). Like John Ireland’s eponymous piece, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It creates an atmosphere of a secret location, (perhaps) in the South Downs, near to the composer’s birthplace. Peter Jacobs is correct in highlighting the disparity between Quilter’s introspective musings and Mátyás Seiber’s Scherzando Capriccioso (1953 or was it 1944?). Does this skittish piece suggest jazz, or is it serialism, or atonality? Who cares? It is a little gem that is a child of its time. Born in Hungary, émigré composer Seiber deserves more attention from performers and concert promoters. In complete contrast, Amy Woodforde-Finden’s Kashmiri Song, extracted from her Four Indian Love Lyrics (1903) is chock full of sentimentality with a delicious melody. It is none the worse for tugging at the heart strings. This is an ideal example of Edwardian salon music.

The booklet should have stated that Herbert Howells’s Procession is the finale of his Three Pieces, op.14 written between 1918-20. It is his longest composition for piano. The other two movements were Rhapsody and Jackanapes. The Procession was the result of a nightmare: Howells was approached by a large crowd, and midst the sound of pealing bells: he was overwhelmed. It is a “million miles away from any pastoral imaginings that the listener may have constructed around the composer’s reputation.” The work reflects his interest at that time in Diaghilev and the Russian and French composers of the period. Stravinsky is evident in this, often-bleak music. The Procession was orchestrated in 1922. More fun is Arthur Benjamin’s Scherzino (1936). Not as popular in effect as the ubiquitous Jamaican Rumba, it is a remarkable exploration of will o’ the wisp rhythms and sassy harmonies. The overall effect reminds the listener of Mendelssohn rather than Modernism. My big discovery on this CD is Humphrey Searle’s powerful Vigil (France 1940-1944). This was completed (presumably) after D-Day. It was written for an album in honour of the French Resistance Forces. I am not sure if the complete album was published, however Searle’s contribution was issued by Lengnick in 1949. The music is serious, sometimes bitter, often despairing, but with just the occasional flash of light and hope. The composer’s deep interest in Liszt is clear in the pianism.

The mood lightens with Hubert Parry’s whimsical Scherzo in F. The structure includes a Schumannesque “trio” bookended by a whimsical “minuet” section. It was composed in the 1870s and was published posthumously.

Cyril Scott’s melancholy Egyptian Boat Song was part of his five movement Egypt Suite, (1913). Despite the esoteric ascription of this piece “To my friend, Mrs. Marie Russak, that enlightened Seer, who brought back for me the memory of my past Egyptian lives, these impressions are affectionately dedicated,” this is haunting music that lives up to its image.

Peter Jacobs notes that William Sterndale Bennett was not a twentieth century composer, but he has included a short work to demonstrate where the ‘land without music’s’ sympathies lay, and how the achievements of Parry, Stanford and others began to give Britain its own identity.” The Presto agitato is the fifth movement of Sterndale Bennett’s Suite de Pieces op.24 (c.1842). Mendelssohn is the exemplar here.

The magical Monody (1977) by Raymond Warren is taken from his Second Piano Sonata (with the composer’s sanction). It is simply a single line of melody with decoration. It is a long movement, which I imagine has difficulties for the performer in maintaining the listener’s interest. Jacob succeeds in this.

William Baines’s Seven Preludes offers an overview of his musical achievement. Written in 1919, they explore a wide range of moods and technical requirements. Despite this diversity, there is a keen sense of unity and purpose about these Preludes, when we consider their contrast. Jacob as chosen to play Nos. 1, 3 and 6.  It is Scriabin who is the most obvious influence in these pieces.

I found the Moderato from Benjamin Britten’s Sonatina Romantica (1940) the least interesting (boring?) work on this CD. I do feel that it could have been omitted to present the full set of Baines’s Preludes.

We are on more significant ground with honorary Scotsman Ronald Stevenson’s A Wheen Tunes for Bairns tae Spiel, written in 1964 (not 1967 when they were published). For those readers who do not speak fluent Scots, this means a Set of Tunes for Children to Play! There are not actually many, only four. These were written for the composer’s youngest daughter. The influence of Percy Grainger has been observed here, as well as Bartok. The four pieces are a Croon, Drone, Reel and Spiel. They reflect Stevenson’s ability to write (relatively) easy piano music for a wide range of ability, without ever being patronising.

The final two compositions could not be different from each other. The clue to Bax’s Winter Waters (1915) is the subtitle A Tragic Landscape. It is sea music, rather than a musical depiction of a loch or a river. For me, it is a companion to the orchestral Tintagel: the waves pound against the base of the Cornish cliffs on a cold and stormy winter’s day. This dark and menacing music offers no intimation of personal companionship, apparent in the latter piece. Compare this with Trevor Hold’s “charming” and “gentle” Tango written 60 years after the Bax. It is a lovely way to close this imaginative and absorbing exploration of British piano music. I understand that Peter Jacob issued a double CD on the Heritage Label of Trevor Hold’s Piano Music (HTGCD 294/5). I have not heard this CD, but it has been reviewed here.

Each work is played with skill, diligence, lack of condescension and reveals the underlying talent of these composers.

The recording, which was made earlier this year, is clear and vibrant. The liner notes by the pianist are excellent, and include a short “CV.” That said, I would have welcomed composer and work dates in the track listings: they are provided in the notes for each piece. Also, when a track is an extract, this should always be stated.

For a few details of Peter Jacobs’s achievement, please see my review of his British Piano Collection Volume 1 in these pages.

This is a great conspectus of rarely heard British Piano Music. Fascinating from the first note to the last.

Track Listing:
Martin Shaw (1875-1958)

Roundabouts (1925)
Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)
Polonaise from Suite for Piano (1925)
Walter Leigh (1905-42)
Eclogue (1940)
John Mayer (1930-2004)
Three Pieces from Calcutta-Nagar (1993)
Roger Quilter (1877-1953)
Summer Evening from Three Pieces op.16, (pub.1916)
Mátyás Seiber (1905-60)
Scherzando Capriccioso (1944)
Amy Woodforde-Finden (1860-1919)
Kashmiri Song from Four Indian Love Lyrics (1903)
Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Procession from Three Pieces, op.14 (1918-20)
Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960)
Scherzino (1936)
Humphrey Searle (1915-82)
Vigil (France 1940-1944)
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918)
Scherzo in F (pub. post. 1922)
Cyril Scott (1879-1970)
Egyptian Boat Song from the Egypt Suite. (1913)
William Sterndale Bennett (1816-75)
Presto Agitato in F-Sharp Minor from Suite de Pieces op.24 (c.1842)
Raymond Warren (b.1928)
Monody (1977)
William Baines (1899-1922)
Seven Preludes (Nos.1, 3 & 6) (1919)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Moderato from Sonatina Romantica (1940)
Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)
A Wheen Tunes for Bairns tae Spiel (1964)
Arnold Bax (1883-1953)
Winter Waters (1915)
Trevor Hold (1939-2004)
Tango (1975)
Peter Jacobs (piano)
Rec. 25 May 2021 Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, Wales
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.