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.
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.
see also reviews
Walker and Jonathan