Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
Despair
Sehnsucht (Longing)
Song of the Summer Woods
The Sea

Nocturne in B
Nocturne in A flat
Nine Preludes (No. 9 recorded here in two versions)
Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999)

Piano Sonata in F minor (1938-40)
Five Bagatelles (1944)
Mark Bebbington (piano)
Recorded St Paul's Church, Birmingham, April 2004
SOMM SOMMCD 038 [74:03]


This is an astute mix of the known and unknown. The four titles italicised above in the headnote are previously unrecorded examples of Gurney’s piano writing. Juvenilia they aren’t, though they show well enough the influences on Gurney’s solo piano writing at the time. By turns wistful (Despair) and romantic, Sehnsucht (Longing) is shot through with non-Albeniz influenced Spanishry whilst Song of the Summer Woods has a greater weight of harmonies and chordal depth. The Sea sports a fine, noble march song. The Nocturnes in B and A flat wear their Chopinesque spurs lightly though their Schumannesque ones somewhat less so.

The Nocturnes and Preludes have hitherto been familiar from the recording made by the late and still lamented Alan Gravill (on Gamut, coupled with Elgar’s piano music). These date from roughly a decade later than the smaller works and Nocturnes. Gurney was nearly thirty and the range and modernity of influence has considerably increased. There are hints of Fauré in the D flat [No.2] whilst No.4 (in the same key) is really very beautiful. The Ninth is here in two versions – the second version, completed in 1920 is a premiere recording.

Ferguson’s Sonata dates from 1938-40 and was dedicated to the memory of Harold Samuel, the great Bach and Brahms player who had so abiding an influence on Ferguson. First performed by Ferguson’s colleague Myra Hess this tough three-movement work’s continental influence is far more pronounced even than Gurney’s earlier, lighter, more evanescent ones. The intangible, withdrawn arch that is the first movement teems with dramatic elisions whilst the Poco Adagio embraces wide dramatic variety; from treble delicacy to nuanced bass the colours are plentiful. Determined, resolute the finale is a clenched fist of concentration, excellently realised by Bebbington. The Bagatelles of 1944 defy their name. The first is astringent, the second more ingratiating and lyric, the third more confident and dramatic and the fifth crisp, animated with a quirkily mobile left hand.

The performances are fully committed – I liked Bebbington’s singing tone in the Gurney and the full weight he gives to chordal outbursts in the Ferguson sonata, as well as those bass extensions that seem to explode from the texture. He doesn’t quite get to the heart of the Ferguson however despite his best efforts. On headphones Somm’s sound is rather clangorous at points – noticeable in the octave above middle C - but when you listen through speakers it’s somewhat better, though hardly sympathetic.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett



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