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William Vincent WALLACE (1812-1865)
To my Star - Celtic Romance

La Louisiana, Waltz (1842) [4:14]
Music Murmurings in the Trees, Romance (1851) [6:07]
Mazurka-étude (1858) [3:26]
L’Absence et le Retour, Romance suive d’une Grande Polka Brillante (1856) [9:09]
To My Star, A Mon Etoile, Romance (1844) [3:26]
La Raidité, Second Étude de Salon (1853) [5:28]
La Force, Third Étude de Salon (1853) [6:46]
A Flower of Poland, Une Fleur de Pologne, Mazurka (1862) [3:42]
Nocturne Dramatique, Grande Nocturne (1848) [6:09]
The Empress, L’Imperatrice, Waltz (1844) [2:36]
The Shepherd’s Lament, La Plainte du Berger, Idylle (1859) [3:50]
Souvenir of Spain, El Nuevo Jaleo de Jerez, Danse Nationale (1856) [5:50]
The Bee and the Rose, Morceau de Salon (1844) [2:03]
Valse Militaire (1837) [3:26]
La Cracovienne, Grande Fantasie and Variations (1842) [11:49]
Rosemary Tuck (piano)
rec. St. Silas Church, Kentish Town, London, 3-4 May 2005. DDD
CALA CACD 88044 [79:00]

The piano music of William Wallace has an undeniable charm. The compositions recorded here are never less than colourful and technically imaginative. Perhaps none of them are very profound, none of them dig very deep emotionally. There are virtuoso show-pieces and sentimental salon pieces. There are plenty of echoes and analogues to be heard and sensed – with Chopin and Liszt most obviously, though the ghosts of Schumann and Mendelssohn also hover above the keyboard at times.

The Mazurka-Etude is thoroughly Chopinesque and balances energy and grace very attractively; A Flower of Poland is emotionally and tonally various, by turns passionate and dramatic, delicate and intimate; L’Absence et le Retour is a diptych which comes, at times, so close to Chopin that charges of plagiarism might successfully have been pressed, but Wallace persuades one, with the sheer verve of his writing, that the driving force here is honest tribute rather than lazy derivativeness.

As their titles suggest, most of the music seeks to paint pictures – the whole makes up a kind of informal account of Wallace’s own anneés de pèlerinage. Wallace’s wanderings took him to Australia, Chile, Peru, the West Indies, Mexico, New Orleans, New York, London, France etc. It makes Liszt sound like a positive stay-at-home! There is perhaps something a little bathetic about the fact that he is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Wallace’s travels are variously reflected and articulated in these piano pieces – not least in the waltzes of La Louisiana - which is delightfully evocative of southern aristocracy - and the grandly vivacious L’Impératrice, and the tenderer waltz rhythms of The Bee and the Rose.

La Cracovienne suggests what a fine pianist Wallace himself must have been; its technical demands are considerable, as are those of Souvenir of Spain, with its virtuosic colours and its rapid ranging across the whole width of the keyboard.

None of the technical demands seem to trouble the Australian pianist Rosemary Tuck, who has taken a special interest in Wallace’s music. She is a very powerful advocate for its virtues. She pitches the music just right – I’m not talking here of musical pitch. What I mean is that she takes it seriously but not solemnly, makes no exaggerated claims for it, but treats it with respect.

This isn’t great music; hearing it won’t do anything to change your mental map of nineteenth century music. But hearing it will almost certainly give you some pleasures you weren’t expecting. Hearing it will probably persuade you that some of Wallace’s music is a match for some of the music of better-known figures amongst his contemporaries and predecessors. I am grateful to Rosemary Tuck – and Cala – for enabling me to hear the colourful music of this wandering Irishman who led a correspondingly colourful life.

Glyn Pursglove

see also reviews by Raymond Walker and Jonathan Woolf

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