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
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.