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Transcriptions of DELIUS, and Piano Music by JOHN IRELAND

Alan Rowlands (Piano)
Obtainable direct from S/L Anthony Lindsay, Hon Secretary, The Delius Society. 1 The Pound, Aldwych Village, West Sussex PO21 3SR (( 01243 824964) £9.00 cheques payable to 'Delius Society No 2' account.

In days gone by the only way music-lovers could readily experience orchestral music was by piano reduction. Most drawing-room piano stools sported at least 4-hand arrangements of the Beethoven and Mozart Symphonies - and later in the 1930s and 1940s the enterprising house of Banks in York produced the rather less academic 'simplifications' of the popular classics. I know I grew up with their 6d editions for piano of The Unfinished, the Rakoczy March, Poet and Peasant and William Tell and delighted in these well known melodies on the parlour piano. The years however brought more sophistication. The first bars of Delius that I heard I was delighted to trace on the piano in the 1914 arrangement of On hearing the First Cuckoo by Gerard Bunk. But I was desperate to get to grips with other works of his (heard on 78s) to see how these marvellous sounds were made and to revel, in adolescence, in the music that so transported the agonies of youth. Eventually, and then only in the boxes that lurk in the dark corners of second-hand bookshops I found the duet arrangements of 'Song Before Sunrise' (Fenby 1922), Eventyr (Dale 1918) and others such as The Forgotten Rite and Mai Dun of John Ireland - these then out of print, and probably still so. And only recently (1982) did Thames re-issue the solo piano arrangements of 1921 under the auspices of the Delius Society. Finding a duet partner in a little Scottish fishing village who had some keyboard ability was not easy. To find someone who had any real sympathy for the gloriously warm summer harmonies of Delius was just impossible my music teacher's admiration for Beethoven was just short of idolatry and my liking for the rich sounds of Eventyr and The Forgotten Rite savoured to her of a ritual wholly unorthodox - even dangerous.

This present CD, beautifully produced with an evocative title (from Rossetti) and sleeve design is an equally personal testament on the part of the pianist Alan Rowlands, who confesses, in the sensitively written sleeve notes, that he too agonised over his desire: - as he puts it "I could not rest until I had played this music for myself". The result is these three transcriptions of Delius - On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring, In a Summer Garden and Brigg Fair in his own carefully scored arrangements, from the early '50s - which he plays with warmth. Although I know him to be a quiet and unexcitable personality his great enjoyment in playing these comes over most strongly. Delius, who wrote little for piano, is not an easy composer to render into keyboard terms - the percussive nature of the piano is at odds with the rich current of flowing orchestral sound that recalls the river at the foot of Delius' garden at Grez. The devices of tremolando, arpeggio and careful pedalling have to suffice - and on this disc, so committed is the playing that we are scarcely conscious of the nuts and bolts (if one can use such a term of Delius). In the end all these and past renderings of Delius for piano are 'arrangements' - the accent on education rather than on performance - and are not true transcriptions. They admit of no tinkering a la Godowsky, or even Busoni. And as such they reveal to us, the listeners, with clarity the processes involved in the creation of the magic that is the ultimate orchestral sound, and they well serve this purpose which I indicated at the beginning. As something rather more than a 'pis aller' we are also given a brief selection of piano pieces by John Ireland, which share the Maytime mood of the Delius and also further underline the personal choice of the pianist, who is one of Ireland's most sensitive and authoritative interpreters. These short pieces, carefully chosen, are as evocative of that summer mood which pervades the disc. Unlike the yea-saying Delius, however, there are hints of a darker melancholy - in 'Spring will not wait' (which piece is the culmination of a short song cycle We'll to the Woods No More in which the pain of Housman's words is summed up, the voice silent, in some of Ireland's most introspective writing) and in the song Spring Sorrow. This epilogic piece underlines what is the dominant mood of the music - the transient nature of all beauty, only made bearable by the promise of reburgeoning Spring.

Colin Scott-Sutherland 


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