My attention well and truly caught by Artworks’ Dance of the Wild Men
and their collection of Australian music for violin and piano I had
no hesitation in requesting review copies of the current disc.
The music is always pleasing in an unassuming, tuneful and fanciful vein.
As a listening experience it is neither revolutionary nor challenging.
It is somewhat tougher than Macdowell yet less emotionally demanding than
the smaller piano essays by Bax or Ireland.
The piquant delicacy of Lindley Evans' Lavender Time is
faintly Joplinesque. Billy Mayerl would have been delighted. Floral perfumes
lead us to Fragrance which smiles down like a sentimental unhurried
blessing, trilling and dreaming. Lullaby is paced without hurry;
is not the most distinguished piece on the disc.
Alfred Hill's liquidly flowing One Came Fluting, Dancing Faun
and Valse Triste are typically backward looking - elegant after
the sentimental manner of Chopin and Mendelssohn - more the latter than
the former. Both The Poet Dreams and Doves are more impressionistic
than the other Hill pieces. I wonder if, like so many of his very short
orchestral tone poems, these works also formed the basis for orchestral
pieces. You can hear some of Hill’s succinct tone poems as fillers to
a selection of his symphonies on Marco Polo (reviewed elsewhere on this
site). The examples on this disc reminded me of William Baines’ fragrant
tone poems and piano impressions including Thoughtdrift and Island
of the Fey.
Hutchens’ Two Little Birds seems to tell some jejune nursery
story of the safer and unthreatening kind. The church bells toll in soft-focus
pastel tones through Sunday Morning. Nothing glares or startles.
Certainly these are not Housman's 'noisy bells' though they do suggest
an untroubled 'land of lost content'. The Enchanted Isle is another
placid watercolour though with more eventful subtle incident painting
than many of the other tracks. Cinderella is a virginal musicbox
dance-suggestion in three sections - with overtones of Ketèlbey.
It ends memorably with the ringing of the midnight bell. Fairy Ships
and The Island ambles along in tinkling contented Debussian
charm. Much the most effective and nostalgic among his pieces is Weeping
Mist. A Haydn-like lightness of spirit mixed with folk-feeling is
to be found in Minuet.
Agnew's Rabbit Hill has about it nothing of 'Watership Down';
instead this is a free-form jig in the folksy idiom of Moeran and Bax.
Much the same applies to his Fairy Dell - all the cantilena
of Here lies a most beautiful lady but none of the complexity of
Delius or Patrick Hadley. The stony bell-like dramatic statements recall
the solo part in Moeran's Rhapsody No. 3 for piano and orchestra His Sleeping
Child is a slow-swinging lullaby - more sleepy portrait than invocation
to Morpheus. Fairy Dell and Starry Night are harmonically
more complicated and impressionistic though still essentially warm and
intimate. There is nothing of the fearful icy stratagems of Holst's Betelgeuse
or Finzi's At a Lunar Eclipse or Channel Firing. A Country
Lane is closer to Hutchens than we are accustomed to from Agnew.
Miriam Hyde's The Fountain is another reflection but is
much more emphatic that many of the pieces here. One gets the impression
that Mlle Cislowska relishes the variety offered by this piece.
Arthur Benjamin's Song brings us a step closer to Finzi
and Howells especially to Finzi.
I mentioned sentimentality in the case of Alfred Hill. To finish the anthology
comes Grainger's Irish Tune - itself an exercise in the
sentimental. It is presented here straight faced and with no hint of condescension.
This music making will be loved by adventurous listeners as well as professional
pianists. Phillip Dyson, Jack Gibbons and Eric Parkin would find this
disc an inspiringly gentle almanac of repertoire suggestions. Whichever
audience those listening will find much calm and fancy in Tamara Anna
Cislowska’s generous-hearted playing..
If after getting this disc you would like to hear more of this repertoire
from Cislowska move forward to Artworks AW023 under the title: Dance
of the Wild Men. Contrary to the title this is not a collection dedicated
to the Anglo-Australian equivalents of Ornstein, Cowell and Mossolov.
Instead the pacing, temperament and fantasy of this collection (drawing
on the same composers) is identical with the current disc.
A word or ten for the design of the booklet and disc. Once again, as in
the Dance of the Wild Men album, Andrew McKeich (who is
Artworks) has used a Norman Lindsay oil for the cover and for much of
the detail including the disc itself. Lindsay's style, going by this and
the darkly erotic fantasy of the AW023 cover, crosses Alma-Tadema with
Egon Schiele and Fuselli. In the painting 'Unknown Seas' (1928) vampire-eyed,
lushly curved and explicitly detailed oceanides disport in the sea’s waves,
on crags and mounted on wild-eyed sea-horses. The vitality, uncanny fantasy,
mêlée and threat of these pictures is striking but not really
in keeping with the innocent charms of the music.
Roger Covell's notes are helpful in scene setting but give no specifics
on the music itself. I would have liked to have known when each piece
was written, something about its inspiration and publication history and
perhaps some background on its performance history.
In a disc of highly agreeable music the pleasure is enhanced by the long
silences between tracks. This gives a chance for sonorities and impressions
to fade before moving on to the next impression.
As I mentioned in my review of Dance
of the Wild men AW023, I do hope that this pianist and this company
can be persuaded to cut a similar swathe through parallel English piano
music literature and take Greville Cooke's piano solos as the core of
the collection with Farjeon, Pullein, Hinton, Coke and Thiman filling
out the picture. Mlle Cislowska has made an outstandingly fine job of
this selection. I am sure she would be just the right choice for an English
A neglected modestly fanciful, lyrical and sentimental strand in music
of the twentieth century - unassuming and gently undemanding fantasy.
Artworks Recorded Music
PO Box 115
Phone/fax: 61 - 2 - 9743 8990