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PERCY TURNBULL Piano Music (Character Sketches; Miniatures; Pasticcio on a Theme of Mozart; Sonatina; Dances; Fantasy Suite; Preludes; Three Winter Pieces.)
Peter Jacobs, piano.
Somm SOMMCD 015 CD 69:35

Percy Turnbull, born near Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1902, had his earliest musical training as a cathedral chorister. He was befriended by W G Whittaker, friend of Holst and Vaughan Williams and champion of Bach cantatas. At the RCM in the 1920s Turnbull studied with Vaughan Williams, Holst and John Ireland. He lived in London, Chalfont St Giles, Surrey and Sussex, and died in 1976.

This background suggests a composer emerging in the 1920s with a certain musical idiom, and to the above names we can add a francophile sensibility, particularly taken from the music of Ravel. This, as Jeremy Dibble writes in his excellent notes, 'lent his music a refinement and fragility which seems to have at its heart a world of sophisticated, delicate images that have much in common with the tinctures and pigments of subtle water-colour shades'. The CD booklet is complemented by a delightful watercolour sketch of a rural scene also by Turnbull, strikingly illustrating both sides of a considerable artistic talent, though the word that comes to mind to describe both is 'Aquarelle'. This is a distinctive but delicate art.

The music was largely written in the 1930s and 1940s, and we are given nearly three dozen short pieces ranging in length from 33 seconds to over five minutes, including representative movements from multi-movement works: of the Seven Character Sketches we have four; of the Seven Miniatures we have three; of the Six Preludes we have just the last. These are never less than well-turned, sometimes something more. Amid a plethora of pieces playing for less than two minutes there are a couple of bigger boned movements, which immediately stand out: the five minute Pastoral from the Seven Miniatures and the Allegro moderato first movement of the Sonatina.

Yet among the miniatures there are also some striking things; the moto-perpetuo-like Toccatina which ends the Fantasy Suite of 1938 underlines Turnbull's Ravellian sensibilities, and at a minute and a quarter would be a splendidly fleeting encore. The three movement Sonatina takes under 8 minutes and is a model of concise argument and attractive textures. Even more successfully Ravellian is the Modéré sans lenteur from Pasticcio, a dozen tributes to composers from Bach to Bartók on a theme from Mozart. Here the notes tell us Augener was unwilling to publish this and a Fauré movement, fearing litigation - showing that Turnbull's publisher at least thought them well done. I was not quite so convinced by the Delius movement, feeling characteristic Delian progressions not enough on their own to create his personal world. Turnbull seems to have been the master of the musical miniature, the thistledown Prelude VI, the shortest movement of all, all the more effective for cutting off when it does.

Peter Jacob plays this repertoire with an easy fluency and it fills a real gap. But it is not the sort of music to be played in hour-long slabs, for it too easily becomes aural wallpaper. Individual items or groups need to be given their proper place in a more general programme, or played as encores; but here is a fine recorded survey to remind you of Turnbull's pianism and his exquisite sound world.





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