The exciting news for Alwyn collectors is that we have a number
of premiere recordings in volume two of the Piano Music series.
Hunter’s Moon, Two Irish Pieces, Contes Barbares, Cinderella and
Water Lilies are all apparently making a first commercial appearance.
The biggest work
here however is Twelve Preludes of 1958. Wass has an august
predecessor on disc in the shape of John Ogdon’s towering Chandos
recording, which was released in the mid 1980s. I’m not aware
that it has yet made it to CD. Wass and Ogdon in any case offer
rather divergent views of the piece, both valid, both plausible
and both intensely communicative. Wass is less veiled and crepuscular
in the First than Ogdon, preferring a more staccato-based approach
and less pedal. He employs more rubato than Ogdon in the second
and is a touch quicker as well and is less overtly expressive
than the latter in the Third. In the Prelude dedicated to the
New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell [No.5], who was killed in
a car crash, both explore the elegiac depth but Ogdon’s faster
tempo conveys the urgency and immediacy and shock of the loss,
whereas Wass’s slower romanticism offers a more wistful response.
The biggest difference is in No.7 where Wass plays quite a straight
bat taking a very quick and linear way with the evocative bell
peals. In short Ogdon’s playing tends to be more expressive
– not invariably a matter of tempi - and to cultivate a more
misterioso element, whereas Wass’s is more classical, more restrained;
the difference between a Giesking Debussy performance and one
by George Copeland perhaps.
(Homage to Paul Gauguin) was written between 1930 and 1933.
There are two running orders for this set of seven pieces, in
one of which No.7 is omitted thus reducing the cycle to six.
These are characterful studies based on Gauguin’s paintings
which had entranced Alwyn since 1928-29. Did he know of the
Delius-Gauguin connection one wonders? These vital pieces include
a sprightly dance, some austere reflective material, a powerful
earthy surge, a deft waltz and a forthright march patina. The
other big piece is Movements of 1961, cast in three sections.
The first in unsettled and powerfully argued, whilst the second
is more limpid – and has a slightly elusive feel especially
at the close. The final movement is vivacious, and driving.
The pedagogic charmers
that make up the rest of the recital have wider interest than
that. Some were written for graded recreational use. Hunter’s
Moon is a triptych, with two capricious outer movements framing
a darkling thrush inner one. The Two Irish Pieces of 1926 are
engaging especially the second which is entitled Paddy the Fiddler
with all that that implies. Cinderella is a charming waltz whilst
Night Thoughts has a forthright march section that doubtless
contributed to insomnia.
These little pieces
should certainly have a life in the concert stage; one or two
would make delightful encore pieces. Wass characterises them
very well indeed. He has been granted a first class recording
– things invariably seem to go well at Crear Studios.