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Nettle and Markham in England
Richard ADDINSELL (1904-1977) Warsaw Concerto
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Country Gardens
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’
William WALTON (1902-1983) Popular Song (from Façade)
William WALTON (1902-1983) Tango-Pasodoble (from Façade)
Jeremy NICHOLAS (born 1947) Quiet Peace No.1
Madeleine DRING (1923-1977) Fantastic Variations on ‘Lilliburlero’ No.1
Frank BRIDGE 9(1879-1941) Sally in our Alley
Eric COATES (1886-1957) By the Sleepy Lagoon
William WALTON (1902-1983) Old Sir Faulk (from Façade)
Howard BLAKE (born 1938) Slow Ragtime (from ‘Dances for Two Pianos’)
Howard BLAKE (born 1938) Folk Ballad (from ‘Dances for Two Pianos’)
Noel GAY (1898-1954) The Lambeth Walk
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970) Lotus Land Op.47 No.1
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Lisbon (from ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’)
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) The Brisk Young Sailor (from ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’)
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) The Lost Lady Found (from ‘A Lincolnshire Posy’)
William WALTON (1902-1983) Swiss Yodelling Song (from Façade)
William WALTON (1902-1983) Polka (from Façade)
Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951) Siesta (from ‘Trois Pièces Nègres Pour Les Touches Blanches
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Mazurka Elegiaca Op.23 No.2
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) English Waltz
Peter WARLOCK (1882-1961) Pavane (from ‘Capriol Suite’)
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Handel in the Strand
David Nettle and Richard Markham (pianos)
rec. 1 June 2001, King Edward’s School, Birmingham and 30 May to 1 June 1992, Studio 1, Pebble Mill, Birmingham. DDD
NETMARK NEMACD200 [78’03"]

The world of piano has always celebrated its superstar soloists whether veterans of the concert-hall or prize winning students and, with CDs to sell for survival, the promotions industry has never been busier. Sometimes overlooked, the two-piano ensemble deserves as much. David Nettle and Richard Markham have played together for some 25 years and I am really ashamed that I have not listened to a note from them in all that time. These highly virtuosic and musical gentlemen deserve as many honours as any glamorous solo keyboard tigress or tiger.

The initial impression is of a CD of encore pieces but, while most of the pieces last less than four minutes, there is plenty of substance here. At the start of the disc and the longest piece on it, Addinsell’s music for "Dangerous Moonlight" makes an impressive impact in Nettle and Markham’s own version for two pianos. However, while the ever-modest Addinsell’s claim for the Warsaw Concerto as ‘cod-Rachmaninoff’ is accurate, as music it barely holds water away from the silver screen or perhaps the cocktail bar. For me, the highlights of the disc are the excerpts from Façade, again in the performers’ own witty arrangements. All receive deliciously pointed performances; the pianists contrive to recreate the chamber versions with their artfully varied articulation and colourations.

The Façade transcriptions are sensibly distributed about the CD, as are the Grainger works. The composer himself ‘dished up’ these versions for two pianos and the results are, if anything, more enjoyable than those for solo piano. The folksy tunes stand up well to the virtuosic treatment and Nettle and Markham provide all the élan and dash you could wish for. In fact, of all the other items on the disc, only Bridge’s ‘Sally In Our Alley’ succumbs to an overdose of grandiosity.

Other highlights include Dring’s Lilliburlero Variations with their piquant Poulenc-esque touches (said to be No.1; I really must look for No.2), a swaggering version of Gay’s ‘The Lambeth Walk’ and Cyril Scott’s ‘Lotus Land’. Though he was described as the English Debussy, Scott’s orientalism feels more like pastiche than the Frenchman’s, which seems better absorbed.

Jeremy Nicholas pops up in all sorts of contexts, notably as a Gramophone reviewer; I return frequently to his deliciously witty lyrics to 'Place Settings' and 'Usherette's Blues' on Sarah Walker and Roger Vignole’s album 'Blah Blah Blah'. He gets a rare instrumental outing here at the sensitive hands of Nettle and Markham. ‘Quiet Piece No.1’ has a gently old-fashioned tango lilt reminiscent of Scott Joplin’s ‘Solace’.

I must admit that I generally hear as much as I want to of Eric Coates’ ‘Sleepy Lagoon’ at the start of Desert Island Discs. Only the beguilingly nostalgic playing of Nettle and Markham kept me attentive through the full five minutes. There will be many listeners, however, who don’t share my view.

The only real downside of the disc is the sometimes clangorous piano sound in the upper register, somewhat wearing in the Warsaw Concerto and at various fortissimi elsewhere. However, the vitality and sensitivity expressed in this collection more than compensate. I will be returning to these performers whenever I need to raise a smile with entertaining pianism.

Roger Blackburn

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