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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



British Fantasies American Dreams
Charles T GRIFFES 1884-1920 Poem arr George Barrere
Walter PISTON 1894-1976 Flute Sonata
Hamilton HARTY 1879-1941 In Ireland
Ian WILSON b 1964 Spilliaert’s Beach
Peter FRIBBINS b 1969 Porphyria’s Lover
Robert BEASER b 1954 Minimal Waltz
Lukas FOSS b 1922 Three American Pieces: Early Song; Dedication; Composer’s Holiday
Cyril SCOTT 1879-1970 Lotus land arr Arthur Ephross
Nancy Ruffer flute
Helen Crayford piano
Recorded Vestry Studios London February 2001
GUILD GMCD 7230 [69.19]
Guild

Looking at a programme such as this might bring an uncharitable thought to mind; eclectic or eccentric? In fact, neither. The recital acts as an arc, beginning with Griffes’ piquant and ravishing fantasy and ending with his older British contemporary Cyril Scott’s Lotus land, ever luscious and disarming. The fact that Scott outlived Griffes by 50 years adds its own depth. Between these succulent pieces – both in arrangements for flute and piano – comes the most accomplished, the Piston, the most delightful, the Harty, the most amusing, Beaser’s 1.26 waltz, two intriguing contemporary works dedicated to the flautist, and Lukas Foss’s Satie and Copland inspired Three American Pieces.

Throughout Ruffer and Crayford exemplify excellent rapport and instrumental surety. To the Griffes they bring a lyrical and passionate understanding. Though a late work dating from 1919, and arranged by the magnificent flautist George Barrere, it loses very little, if anything, in this guise. Piston’s sonata was written in 1930, ten years after Griffes’ untimely, obscure death. Evincing his succinct modernist instincts it is by turns lyrical and kinetic. The first movement is in triple time, galvanisingly so, the second superbly contrapuntal and the finale full of his supple lyricism and energy.

Hamilton Harty’s In Ireland is a confection of suitable airs strung together to form six delightful minutes. Harp imitation by the piano adds its own pleasures. With Ian Wilson and Peter Fribbins we are on sterner ground. Inspired by Leon Spilliaert’s 1908 painting Moonlit Beach Wilson, Belfast born in 1964, explores that work’s almost abstract quality in a most involving way. A kind of stasis descends on the music through the use of a descending theme, here on the alto flute – at Nancy Ruffer’s suggestion – which is at once reflective and allusive. Porphyria’s Lover by Peter Fribbins takes its title from the Browning poem and it is by turns fractious, lyrical, skittish and finally calmly reflective. Its fourteen-minute span tests the stamina and technique, but both musicians emerge unscathed. Beaser’s Minimal Waltz is a tiny, insistent and rather memorable thing. Foss’s three small pieces disclose some evident influences. As the sleeve note writer, Daryl Runswick, cogently and imaginatively says they are Satie- and Copland- and neo-classically informed. The second of them, Dedication, is superbly languorous, the third a rompy moto perpetuo on what Runswick coyly calls "a famous American national song." Cyril Scott brings the recital to an end in suitably languid fashion and closes a most wide-ranging and imaginative disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Hubert Culot has also listened to this disc.

Charles Tomlinson GriffesPoem may be better known in its orchestral guise, but it also works quite well with piano accompaniment. This, one of Griffes’ last works written in 1919, is a beautiful song-like fantasy slightly redolent of Debussy.

Walter Piston’s beautifully proportioned, neo-classical Sonata of 1930 is a fine example of this composer’s well crafted music and a reminder of his studies with Nadia Boulanger. Three short movements, never outstaying their welcome, make for a most enjoyable, tuneful sonatina.

Hamilton Harty’s fantasy In Ireland was written in 1918 and later scored for flute, harp and orchestra by the composer (recorded by Bryden Thomson for Chandos some years ago). There also exists a quite effective arrangement for flute and harp by Catherine Beynon (available on METIER MSV CD 92006). This is a delightful medley on Irish tunes.

The Irish composer Ian Wilson has already made quite a name for himself with an impressive, much varied output including a number of substantial works such as his organ concerto Rich Harbour, his three piano trios and his three string quartets. Ian Wilson’s music often has some extra-musical background, literary or pictorial, e.g. Giacometti’s works in his Second String Quartet "The Capsizing Man and other stories" (1994). The short piece for alto flute and piano Spilliaert’s Beach, written in 1999 for Nancy Ruffer, evokes the Belgian painter Léon Spilliaert whose painting Moonlit Beach of 1908 is, in its almost minimalist way, an impressive study in black-and-yellow contrasts. Wilson’s own brand of minimalism (in this work at least) perfectly matches Spilliaert’s economy of means. Very simple but highly effective, and a most welcome novelty.

I must confess that Peter Fribbins’ name and music are new to me. His Porphyria’s Lover, dedicated to Nancy Ruffer, is a very fine fantasy in three short sections: a more animated central section framed by slower ones. The composer mentions that the piece is based on Browning’s similarly titled poem, which – to be frank – does not mean much to me, but this elegantly wrought substantial piece of music of this is quite appealing.

Robert Beaser’s Minimal Waltz is exactly that: a delightful trifle of great charm playing for just over one minute.

Lukas Foss’s Three American Pieces are among his earliest works, written in 1944 and 1945, and thus quite uncharacteristic of his later style. These short sketches are unashamedly neo-classical in style, particularly the first two pieces whereas the concluding Composer’s Holiday is a quick moto perpetuo in pure Americana with quotations of a familiar American song. Not a great work but quite enjoyable.

This welcome, well-planned, much varied and beautifully played collection ends with a quite effective arrangement of Cyril Scott’s celebrated Lotus Land, originally written for piano.

No reservation whatsoever and heartily recommended.

Hubert Culot


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