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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Piano Music Volume 2
Twelve Preludes (1958) [24:20]
Hunterís Moon (1932) [4:18]
Two Irish Pieces (1926) [3:29]
Contes Barbares (Homage to Paul Gauguin) (1930-33) [16:19]
Cinderella (1952) [2:47]
Water Lillies (1952) [2:02]
Night Thoughts (1939) [3:46]
Movements (1961) [15:19]
Ashley Wass (piano)
rec. Crear Studios, Lochgilphead, Argyll, June-July 2007†
NAXOS 8.570464 [72:21]
Experience Classicsonline

The exciting news for Alwyn collectors is that we have a number of premiere recordings in volume two of the Piano Music series. Hunterís Moon, Two Irish Pieces, Contes Barbares, Cinderella and Water Lilies are all apparently making a first commercial appearance.

The biggest work here however is Twelve Preludes of 1958. Wass has an august predecessor on disc in the shape of John Ogdonís towering Chandos recording, which was released in the mid 1980s. Iím not aware that it has yet made it to CD. Wass and Ogdon in any case offer rather divergent views of the piece, both valid, both plausible and both intensely communicative. Wass is less veiled and crepuscular in the First than Ogdon, preferring a more staccato-based approach and less pedal. He employs more rubato than Ogdon in the second and is a touch quicker as well and is less overtly expressive than the latter in the Third. In the Prelude dedicated to the New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell [No.5], who was killed in a car crash, both explore the elegiac depth but Ogdonís faster tempo conveys the urgency and immediacy and shock of the loss, whereas Wassís slower romanticism offers a more wistful response. The biggest difference is in No.7 where Wass plays quite a straight bat taking a very quick and linear way with the evocative bell peals.† In short Ogdonís playing tends to be more expressive Ė not invariably a matter of tempi - and to cultivate a more misterioso element, whereas Wassís is more classical, more restrained; the difference between a Giesking Debussy performance and one by George Copeland perhaps.

Contes Barbares (Homage to Paul Gauguin) was written between 1930 and 1933. There are two running orders for this set of seven pieces, in one of which No.7 is omitted thus reducing the cycle to six. These are characterful studies based on Gauguinís paintings which had entranced Alwyn since 1928-29. Did he know of the Delius-Gauguin connection one wonders? These vital pieces include a sprightly dance, some austere reflective material, a powerful earthy surge, a deft waltz and a forthright march patina. The other big piece is Movements of 1961, cast in three sections. The first in unsettled and powerfully argued, whilst the second is more limpid Ė and has a slightly elusive feel especially at the close. The final movement is vivacious, and driving.

The pedagogic charmers that make up the rest of the recital have wider interest than that. Some were written for graded recreational use. Hunterís Moon is a triptych, with two capricious outer movements framing a darkling thrush inner one. The Two Irish Pieces of 1926 are engaging especially the second which is entitled Paddy the Fiddler with all that that implies. Cinderella is a charming waltz whilst Night Thoughts has a forthright march section that doubtless contributed to insomnia.

These little pieces should certainly have a life in the concert stage; one or two would make delightful encore pieces. Wass characterises them very well indeed. He has been granted a first class recording Ė things invariably seem to go well at Crear Studios.

Jonathan Woolf


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