> ROUTH Piano Music [DW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Francis ROUTH (b1927)
The Piano Music: Scenes for piano IV, Bretagne Op. 68 ; Scenes for piano III Angels of Albion, Op. 64 ; Elegy ; Celebration, Op. 45
Lora Dimitrova (piano, items 1 and 2)
Jeffrey Jacob (piano, items 3 and 4)


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I have hesitated to review this disc as I have been involved in the project. I introduced Francis to Lora Dimitrova and he has been delighted with that introduction and worked with her on his piano music and, as this disc proves, with great success.

My introduction to Lora was hearing her play the lovely Bartók Piano Concerto no. 3 in a memorable performance although marred by the usual inexplicable eccentricities of Georg Solti. Then I heard her play Beethoven's magnificent Opus 111.

Francis Routh is one of the very few living composers who can write for the piano.

I have often wondered why he calls his major works Scenes for piano. The title is apt but the term invokes something theatrical and perhaps unreal. Theatre and acting is, after all, not real. Perhaps he is a latter day impressionist!

Scenes for Piano III was written for Jeffrey Jacob although Lora Dimitrova plays it on this disc. It was composed between April and August 1998. There are five movements, the first three headed with quotes from the mystical and weird William Blake as implied by the title and his reference to Albion, Blake's word for England. The last three movements are designated with slow tempi and this makes the work somewhat unsatisfactory.

The opening prelude is marked Allegro energico. I would have liked more energico but the pianist captures the dotted rhythm to perfection. Splendid finger-work is heard from bar 12 onwards, it is absolutely scintillating stuff. I would have preferred a more notable alla marcia at bar 15 but the control of the difficult piece, difficult to play, that is, is excellent.

It may be the recording that is at fault but the contrast between pianissimos (bar 150) and fortissimo (bar 31) is not wide enough. There needs to be more marcato in the bass at bar 36 and following.

The next movement is an Aubade and introduces a worrying feature. Given that the music is tough to play it does not justify the gaps between bars (end of bar 17 is one of many examples). I can see the logic but the music does not authorise this and it breaks up the flow of it. There is a bad gap at the end of bar 47, for example.

It is the same with the big romantic concertos. For example, there are notorious parts in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 where most pianists engineer gaps to position their hands elsewhere over the keys to play the next part. Some even slow down. The double octaves at the end is a case in point. There are few pianists who would not have these irritating gaps.

The Aubade ends with a poco a poco rit. but this performance is too rit!

To the evening star is very slow and again the contrast in dynamics is too restricted. The fortissimo con forza at bar 25 needed to be stronger and the ppp at bar 34 is not!. The fingerwork at the top of the piano, while brilliant, clatters a little and reminds us that playing the piano is a mechanical task!

Movement four is entitled Night Music and one would have wished for a contrast between adjoining movements. It is very well written and played. The same weaknesses are there such as gaps between bars (end of bar 38, for example) but there is so much to admire. The Bachian clarity, the quasi-Bartókian style and the sheer splendour of the writing.

The final movement is a berceuse but you will never hear a cradle song like this. The central movement is marked marziale, like a march, and is simply splendid. Are we waking the baby up?

Bretagne is another sets of impressions for piano. It is a better and more immediate work in that it alternates quick and slow movements. There are eight movements of which the fifth is an extended slow movement. These impressions of Breton life recall the French composer Guy-Ropartz and Francis has captured the out of doors atmosphere to perfection. There is far more colour and life in this work than Albion. We can picture jugglers, dancers and the crude sort that frequent fairgrounds. There is a procession in movement six as in Debussy's Fetes and the joyful Festival Day brings the work to a happy conclusion.

This disc is a fascinating contrast between two fine pianists who are completely different but equally gifted. On the one hand you have the controlled exuberance and clarity of the Bulgarian and, on the other hand, the more experienced Jeffrey Jacob for whom contemporary composers have written works ... Gunther Schuller with his Piano Concerto no. 3, Vincent Persichetti and his Piano Sonata no. 12 and, of course, Francis Routh with his Poème Fantastique which, I suppose, could be called his Piano Concerto no.2.

Jeffrey Jacob plays first the Elegy which is a transcription of the slow movement of the Serenade for String Trio. It is a very personal work written in memory of the composer's son, Benjamin, who died of rheumatoid arthritis at the age of ten months in 1960. It is a stark piece with little or no development speaking poignantly of the son who would not develop into childhood, let alone manhood. Jacob's use of the pedal shows a musician of tremendous insight. there is a depth of changing feelings here. That it is scored for the piano (Francis is a stunning pianist himself) gives it a more personal feel. It is a father lamenting his son. I was a little troubled at the sound quality on the last long chord which I discussed with the composer.

Celebration is a magnificent piece. It is an unashamed extrovert showpiece with a lyrical central section. It is very exciting and a rarity in that so many 20th century composers could not write virtuosic piano music.

It is a breathtaking piece.

This disc is recommended.

Will someone now take up Francis's Piano Concerto, his excellent Symphony and that sublime work for mezzo and orchestra, Spring Night, a work of profound beauty?

David Wright

More details about this recording

Francis Routh

Redcliffe Recordings


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