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On Heather Hill Duo-Piano Discoveries from the British Isles
Music by York Bowen, Mervyn Roberts, Alan Richardson and Hamilton Harty
Bruce Posner and Donald Garvelmann (pianos)
Olympia OCD680


The American piano Duo of Bruce Posner and Donald Garvelmann claim, on this exciting disc, to have "discovered" a wealth of British pianism. I venture to suggest that, for a great many listeners, the "discovery" will prove a "revelation". For those of us who can (smugly) claim to have known this music for years (with the exception of the Harty, which IS a revelation) the feeling is more likely to be one of satisfaction that this music usually heard only at intimate gatherings of cognoscenti, or at homely musical family 'get-togethers', is now to be heard in 'The Public Domain' (horrible expression that Sorabji would have shuddered at!). It is only a matter for regret that none of the composers represented is now alive to enjoy it.

Why such richly inventive and beautifully crafted music should now need to be 'discovered' and in America is a mystery. These composers weren't in any way "prophets" whose country should deny them honour? They belong fairly and squarely to the opening span of the twentieth century in British music and with a consummate sense of style, and a command of contrapuntal technique, share the harmonic characteristics that were part and parcel of the musical currency of the period in this country. They do not however in any way 'date'! For reasons why this music should have an especial character and piano writing of such a high quality (apart from the fact that they were all themselves fine pianists) one must look to the teachers with whom they studied, and the width of their education: Matthay (of whom one young student said "I thought you only taught 'touch' and here you are teaching me music!") Craxton, Arthur Alexander (himself a Matthay pupil), R.O.Morris and from the same stable came also Dale and Bax

Of them all York Bowen was the most prolific, with a formidable body of piano compositions, all approachable, but of a quality which prompted the perspicacious Sorabji to describe it as "the finest English piano music written in our time". (Mi Contra Fa) The disc's title is chosen from the elegantly contrapuntal "On Heather Hill" of the Scot Alan Richardson. This might suggest a programmatic element throughout (perhaps encouraged by Garvelmann's engaging programme notes) but while this perhaps applies to the Harty, and to some extent to the Richardson pieces, the other compositions are not really impressionistic but have an almost classical 'rightness' of expression, an elegance that is subtly delivered in the writing for the instrument. Richardson's music, like Bowen's though less demanding technically, is very satisfying to explore.

The early Harty pieces a discovery perhaps recalling the long neglect of Elgar's Concert Allegro with its quasi-Celtic overtones, is a big dramatic work which Donald Garvelmann has prepared for this performance (the first since 1902) Its opening gestures (hints of MacDowell?) suggest tragedy, wistfully echoed in the subtle lyricism that follows. A more heroic aspect is developed to end with positive affirmation altogether a 'discovery' and a valuable contribution to the repertoire.

The darkest horse in the stable is Mervyn Roberts, a Welsh composer, all of whose work shows a strong melodic impulse, often of a kind of Bach-like spirituality, here underlined in the two published Chorales and in the chorale-prelude-like tune of the Elegy. This melodic line is embedded in very characteristic and deceptively adventurous harmony that lifts even his shortest ostensibly 'teaching' pieces out of the schoolroom (to which so much fine British piano music is too often relegated.) The programme note makes a plea for his Piano Sonata (revised in 1949 and which won the Edwin Evans prize in 1950) and I would underline that plea: a recording of that fine work and the beautiful Variations on an original Theme for two pianos (both Novello) is long overdue

The Duo's enthusiasm in their discovery of this music (and I can assure them that there is lots more to be 'discovered') is communicated in their playing crisp, clear and at times bordering on the excitable! I hope they will pursue their quest!


Colin Scott-Sutherland 



Colin Scott-Sutherland 

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