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Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
The Complete Solo Piano Music

Bank Holiday (1925)
The White Mountain (1927)
On A May Morning (1921)
Toccata (1921)
Two Legends (1923): A Folk Story; Rune
Three Piano Pieces (1919): The Lake Island; Autumn Woods; At A Horse Fair
Two Pieces (1933): Prelude; Berceuse
Theme And Variations (1920)
Summer Valley (1925)
Stalham River (1921)
Three Fancies (1922): Windmills; Elegy; Burlesque
Irish Love Song (1926)
Una Hunt (piano)
Rec. 2002. DDD
ASV CD DCA 1138 [77.04]


Moeran’s published solo piano music - some eighteen single pieces, of which only one (Theme and Variations) employs an extended, larger-scale structure - was nearly all written during the earlier part of his compositional career, between 1919 and 1927 i.e.between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-three, with his greatest music yet to come. Only the short Two Pieces of 1933 were to follow, wistfully elegiac and written in the wake of his friend Peter Warlock’s tragic death in 1931.

This music must be heard and assessed in the context of Moeran’s first achieved style: that of the early orchestral Rhapsodies, the Norfolk folksong arrangements, the Piano Trio, the A minor String Quartet and the grimly powerful Violin Sonata. In other words, beneath the lyrically illustrative, romantic-impressionist surface of much of the music, imbued as it is with a palpable spirit of place - Norfolk waterways (Stalham River), the west of Ireland (Three Piano Pieces), Herefordshire border country (Summer Valley), even London perhaps on a summer holiday (Bank Holiday) - can run a deeper, darker current of both personal feeling (Elegy) and Celtic atavism to match anything in John Ireland or Arthur Machen (the remarkable Rune). Threaded somewhere in virtually all these pieces, whatever the setting, is a rich vein of folksong-inspired melody (always Moeran’s own, except for the two folksong arrangements, the beautiful Irish Love Song and The White Mountain) of either East-Anglian or Irish provenance, informing the texture of even the most abstract of titles (Theme and Variations, Toccata). There is indeed more variety here - of mood, texture, and intent - than we might at first expect, given Moeran’s relative youth at the time of composition, and the comparative unimportance of his piano music within the wider context of his life’s work.

A memorable collection then, of real musical appeal: it takes a rightful, if lesser, place within the corpus of early twentieth century British piano literature represented most outstandingly by Ireland, Bridge and Bax. One important indication of its appeal is surely the fact that the CD under review represents the third recording label to have issued a complete cycle of Moeran’s piano music, which fits most conveniently onto a single CD of just under eighty minutes. The first such cycle was published over two LPs by Lyrita, with honours shared between Iris Loveridge in 1960 (mono only) and Eric Parkin in 1972 (neither recording is currently available). Then in 1994, the Moeran centenary year, came Eric Parkin’s second, this time complete, recording for J. Martin Stafford (JMSCD2 - available direct, for £12.50 inc. postage, from the publisher at 298 Blossomfield Rd, Solihull B91 1TH). And now appears the third recording, produced in Ireland for ASV, which has already in its catalogue one of the most outstanding and essential of all Moeran recordings: the Vanbrugh Quartet’s performance of the two String Quartets and Fantasy-Quartet coupled with the Joachim Trio’s performance of the Piano Trio (CD DCA 1045).

Those of us who possess the Loveridge LP (Lyrita RCS3) should not consider discarding it, for - though sadly not a complete survey, and recorded in now less-than-ideal sound - it possesses qualities of fluent, unselfconscious technique and artistry which are not easily replaced. This is playing of a sensitivity which takes the listener through and beyond the notes to the underlying poetic impulse of each piece: see with the mind’s eye as we listen.

Both Eric Parkin and Una Hunt also reveal qualities of interpretative insight which are essential to this music. Parkin’s earlier recording (Lyrita SRCS42) is generally the preferable of his two, at least where performances are duplicated: one senses he is not always playing fully up to the mark in the more recent Stafford CD.

Una Hunt plays with appealing clarity and understanding, though there are areas of imaginative depth in some of this music which she has yet fully to explore. But the balance is finally tipped in her favour by dint of the recorded sound quality she is offered: warm, up-front and embracing. This is a beautifully engineered disc, which admirably projects the fine qualities of Hunt’s performance. Strongly recommended.

John Talbot



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