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Francis ROUTH (b.1927)
Bretagne - Scenes for Piano IV Op.68 (1998)a
Angels of Albion – Scenes for Piano III Op.64 (1995)a
Elegy (1986)b
Celebration Op.45 (1984)b
Lora Dimitrova (piano)a; Jeffrey Jacob (piano)b
Recorded: Moor Park, Ludlow, May 1999 (Bretagne); The Downs School, Colwall, November 2000 (Angels of Albion) and BBC Maida Vale Studio 2, London, May 1986 (Elegy, Celebration)


Francis Routh has so far composed five sets of pieces for piano sharing the subtitle of Scenes for Piano. The ones recorded here brilliantly demonstrate the composer’s breadth of vision and varied approach to piano writing. Bretagne – Scenes for Piano IV Op.68 is the most readily accessible of the two on this disc. It is a substantial suite of impressionistic sketches of great beauty and communicative strength. Routh, however, sees to it that the music, for all its freedom, is tightly knit. He conceived his work as a theme and variations. The sheer variety and imagination of the music, nevertheless, strikes by its evocative and poetical power. Most movements are fairly concise, but the emotional heart of the piece is the beautiful fifth movement Sillon de Talbert, à la tombée du jour, a large-scale Nocturne in all but the name. Bretagne ends with the urban jollity of Jour de Fête Celte à Lorient.

Angels of Albion – Scenes for Piano III Op.64 is a much more serious and emotionally more complex work. Each of its five movements bears a literary superscription (William Blake in Prelude, Aubade and To the Evening Star; Victor Hugo in Night Music and Siegfried Sassoon in Berceuse) which is, in one way or another, reflected in the music. The march-like rhythms in Prelude echo Blake’s words ("Right through the gates of wrath / I urge my way"). Aubade is a light-aired Scherzo ("The sun...Ascends the sky"). To the Evening Star is a song-like movement evoking the serenity and peace of evening. A short-lived climax ("...light/ Thy bright torch of love") reminding us of latent violence is followed by an ethereal coda ("...thy radiant crown/ Put on"). Night Piece is a long menacing Nocturne of a rather troubled and tormented nature (Hugo’s "the red and sombre contest"). The final and most developed movement Berceuse alludes to Sassoon’s wartime poem Everyone Sang in which the poet refers to an event that took place at Christmas 1914 when the opposing soldiers met in no-man’s-land to sing carols before resuming their fighting. This complex movement falls into three inter-linked sections, opening with peaceful singing, going through a martial and war-like central section reworking the march-like material of the Prelude. It culminates in a brief forceful climax based on the Aubade’s music, and dies away slowly using the ‘singing’ material with which it began. Most of the music of Angels of Albion, in fact another theme and variations, is based on thematic material stated in the first bars, intricately worked-out in a remarkably resourceful manner.

In total contrast, the short Elegy is simpler, though by no means easy or minimalist. It is a transcription for piano of a movement from the Serenade for String Trio Op. 24 of 1972, completed in 1986 and first performed by Jeffrey Jacob. The music, conceived as an in memoriam inspired by the death of the composer’s son, is deeply moving in its simplicity.

The very title of Celebration Op.45 is partly misleading, for this substantial piece in three contrasting sections is a compact sonata in one movement. The music has a remarkable freshness of inspiration and the outer sections bounce along in joyous playfulness. One cannot but agree with David Wright when he writes in his excellent and illuminating notes that "a feeling of exhilaration underlies the whole composition process". Celebration Op.45 is a superb virtuoso showpiece in its outer sections whereas emotion is not absent from the central cantabile section.

Francis Routh’s music is often intricately and painstakingly worked-out; but, no matter how complex it may sometimes be, it always communicates directly and the composer’s strong intellectual grip on his material never obscures or obliterates the great expressive power of the music, which is its most endearing quality.

Both performers have a long association with Routh’s music and these carefully prepared, immaculate, committed readings pay a well-deserved tribute to a most distinguished composer whose music is regrettably too rarely heard. I hope that the remaining Scenes (and more of Routh’s music) will soon be recorded. I cannot but warmly recommend this most welcome and rewarding release.

Hubert Culot

see also review by David Wright

You may read the booklet notes here

Redcliffe Recordings

Francis Routh Biography by David Wright


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