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Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
Despair; Sehnsucht (Longing); Song of the Summer Woods; The Sea [11:37]; Nocturne in B; Nocturne in A flat [12:47]; Nine Preludes (No. 9 recorded here in two versions) [18:44]
Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999)

Piano Sonata in F minor (1938-40) [22:54]
Five Bagatelles (1944) [8:00]
Mark Bebbington (piano)
rec. St Paul's Church, Birmingham, 15-16 Apr 2004. DDD
SOMM SOMMCD 038 [74:03]

 

The first four tracks of this CD comprise unpublished Gurney pieces in their premiere recordings. These colourfully titled mood-poems, together with the two Nocturnes, are from the period 1908-1909 written while Gurney was articled as a pupil to Sir Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral. They are pleasingly derivative works none the worse for their plain debt to Chopin, Schumann and Grieg. Most memorable is the Sehnsucht with its Hispanic skirl, delicacy and sense of romantic separation. More impressive still are the fully mature ten preludes (listed as nine but the ninth is played in two versions). They show a great advance in style and profundity with a dreamy Gallic ‘voiles’ tendency in the first two and a Beethovenian ‘rage over a lost penny’ in the third. There is a touch of Macdowell sentimentality in the fourth. Reminiscences of the song Hawk and Buckle resound in the bluffly active Fifth. The Seventh inhabits the same tonal world as the song All Night Under The Moon and Severn Meadows.

Ferguson's Sonata is one of the only twenty published works written during the period 1928 to 1958. It was first played by Myra Hess at the National Gallery Concerts in 1940. With Hess, Ferguson jointly organised that iconic series. While I seriously wonder if there is enough fire in the fist-shaking defiant first movement, Bebbington uses his pearly touch and quietly beseeching tone to masterly effect in the lento - most beautifully done. In the finale there is some strenuous, bell-like and violently inimical writing - suggestive of thunderstorms and shivering cold.

Finally comes the angular Five Bagatelles first recorded by Myra Hess. They are dedicated to the south African composer Arnold Van Wyk. These are subtle works, of Debussian suggestiveness and sardonic wit. Bebbington sets up a very nice rhythmic pulse for the finale bagatelle. We all know that Finzi and Ferguson were close friends but if you know the Finzi Bagatelles (clarinet and piano) please don't expect Ferguson's to be in the same ingratiating style - they are not. These lean more towards Bartok than to Finzi.

Both Ferguson and Gurney retreated from the creation of music long before their deaths. Gurney's long mental decline resulted in an end to his production by the mid-1920s while Ferguson famously ceased writing in 1958. He was to live another forty years in a Sibelian silence.

This disc, like Bebbington’s fascinating Castelnuovo-Tedesco collection, is in SOMM's ‘New Horizons’ series. It has been financially supported by the Elmley Foundation and by the Ivor Gurney Society.

The notes by Lewis Foreman are lucid and wide-ranging.

Bebbington's touch is velvety smooth; making light of the task of drawing the percussive sting from the piano. Lovely playing indeed.

Rob Barnett


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