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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

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Peter WISHART (1921–1984)
Opheis Kai Klimakes Op.35 (1959) [31:42]
Partita in F sharp Op.10 (1950) [9:18]
Sonata for Piano Duet Op.5 (1949)a [9:56]
Constant LAMBERT (1905–1951)
Suite in three movements (1925) [13:13]
Prize Fight (1924)a [8:32]
Mark Tanner (piano); Allan Schiller (piano)a
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, May 2006
PRIORY PRCD881 [73:49]
 


Peter Wishart belongs to what I often refer to as “the doomed generation” of British music, to which Peter Racine Fricker, Robert Simpson, Adrian Cruft, Ruth Gipps and Malcolm Arnold also belong. Their music was found too modern by conservative tastes and too traditional for the younger, more radical generation.
 
From his earlier composing career Wishart was happy to compose in elegant, Stravinskian Neo-classicism, which was already suspect in the early 1950s. He nevertheless went on writing music to his own inclinations and composed a sizeable body of work in almost every genre, including several operas. His name is most familiar from the fine carol setting Alleluya, a new work is come on hand, still fairly regularly heard and recorded. This carol excepted, Wishart’s music has long remained unrecorded, until a pioneering cassette released by the British Music Society (BMS 409) brought it back into public hearing. This cassette featured the Partita in F sharp Op.10, Opheis Kai Klimakes Op.35 played by Alexander Kelly, the dedicatee of Opheis Kai Klimakes, as well as six songs sung by Wishart’s widow Maureen Lehane. Another BMS cassette (BMS 414) with English music for piano duet also included the Sonata for Piano Duet Op.5 played by Priscilla Naish and Philip Cranmer. This cassette is still worth tracking down, for it included several rarities such as Algernon Ashton’s English Dances as well as works by Richard Hall, John Joubert, York Bowen, Constant Lambert and Philip Cranmer. Somewhat more recently, actually in 1993, Wishart’s String Quartet No.3 in A Op.22 was recorded by Tremula - on TREM 102-2 surely still available and well worth looking for anyway - along with Rubbra’s Second String Quartet and another rarity, Phyllis Tate’s String Quartet in F major.
 
Both the Partita in F sharp Op.10 and the Sonata for Piano Duet Op.5 are relatively early works, but they already display most characteristics of Wishart’s style, notably his elegant Neo-classicism to which he adhered throughout his composing life. The Sonata is cast as a Prelude and a set of variations, while the Partita is laid-out as a Baroque suite in four movements (Prelude, Burlesca, Aria and Capriccio) of great charm. Surely, Stravinsky, Ravel and maybe Poulenc may be lurking round the corner.
 
On the other hand, while still strongly embedded in Neo-classicism, Opheis Kai Klimakes Op.35 (“Snakes and Ladders”) is a considerable work, both in terms of sheer length and of musical substance. It, too, is laid-out as a suite in six strongly contrasted movements, of which the outer ones are “unmarked”, so that it is up to the performer to decide how the music should go. The opening movement clearly functions as a “lyrical, flowing prelude” (Alexander Kelly’s words) in which motivic ideas for the other movements are stated. The second movement is a fugue. It is followed by a racy Scherzo, in turn followed by another fugue. This is followed by a long, elegiac Adagio of great beauty in which one can hear faint echoes from Ravel. The work ends with yet another fugue capped by a somewhat unexpected Scottish episode - an affectionate tribute to Alexander Kelly, no doubt - although it too derives from the theme of the opening movement, as Mark Tanner remarks in his very detailed notes.
 
This very fine and generously filled release concludes with two rarities by Constant Lambert. The Suite in three (continuous) movements from 1925 and Prize Fight in Lambert’s own arrangement for piano duet. True, the latter is no longer so much of a rarity since the orchestral version was recorded some time ago; BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth on ASV White Line WHL 2122. Both works hark back to the spirit of Le Groupe des Six and Stravinsky, who were much in vogue at that time and likely to influence the young composer in one way or another. Mark Tanner mentions a brief tongue-in-cheek reference to Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz in the introduction of the Suite. The music is played without a break, and the three movements are certainly connected; but, as Tanner rightly remarks, the fragmentary nature of the music does not make this particularly clear. The Suite is far from negligible, and is obviously quite seriously meant, for there is nothing here of the humour found in, say, Pomona or in Prize Fight. This short ballet on a highly humorous “libretto” by the composer is much indebted to Satie and – again – Le Groupe des Six. Some of the tricky rhythms were inherited from Stravinsky. It is a short, lively work full of light spirit and humour; especially the way in which the American song When Johnny comes marching home is handled throughout the score to depict the “big American boxer”.
 
Mark Tanner clearly loves the music, as is evident from his carefully prepared, committed readings; and he is superbly partnered by Allan Schiller. This magnificent release is a fitting tribute to Wishart, who would have been 85 this year and it sheds new light on the music of Constant Lambert.
 
Hubert Culot

 

 



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