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The Tamara Anna Cislowska Collection
The Enchanted Isle – Australian Piano Music [68:14 + 59:34]
The Ghost Ship – Virtuoso and Romantic Piano Music [68:19 + 62:10]
The Persian Hours – Mystical Piano Music [60:21]
Tamara Anna Cislowska (piano)
rec. 1996-1999, Australia
Full tracklisting at end of review
ABC CLASSICS 4766297 [5 CDs 68:14 + 59:34 + 68:19 + 62:10 + 60:21]
Experience Classicsonline


Plaudits to ABC for scooping up these discs from Artworks and releasing them as a single lavishly variegated box. They were first issued on AW discs in the late 1990s but have since sunk out of view. The set comprises a single CD and two double CD packs. Allowing for the fact that the box is rather too snug for the three cases this is just the collection for you if you like to be challenged with the unusual yet not with the outlandishly modern. Our guide through this repertoire of shorter romantic and mystical pieces is the brilliant, sensitive and wide-ranging pianist, Tamara Anna Cislowska. 

I reviewed the first two discs when they were available only separately in 2002. They were then titled Enchanted Isle (now CD 1 of the first double set) and Dance of the Wild Men (now CD 2 of that set). They form a deftly calculated presence in the catalogue giving a perspective on the piano stool pastels of Australia’s interwar years.

Starting with CD1 of The Enchanted Isle we encounter the piquant delicacy of Lindley Evans' Lavender Time. It’s faintly Joplinesque. Floral perfumes lead us to Fragrance which smiles down like a sentimental unhurried blessing, trilling and dreaming. Lullaby is paced without hurry; not the most distinguished piece on the disc. 

Alfred Hill's liquidly flowing One Came Fluting, Dancing Faun and Valse Triste are typically backward-looking - elegant after the sentimental manner of Chopin and Mendelssohn - more the latter than the former. Both The Poet Dreams and Doves are more impressionistic than the other Hill pieces. The examples here reminded me of William Baines’ fragrant piano impressions including Thoughtdrift and Island of the Fey. 

Hutchens’ Two Little Birds tells some nursery story of the unthreatening kind. The church bells toll in pastel tones through Sunday Morning. Nothing glares or startles. Certainly these are not Housman's 'noisy bells'; they suggest an untroubled 'land of lost content'. The Enchanted Isle is another placid watercolour though with more eventful incident painting than many of the other tracks. Cinderella is a virginal music-box dance-suggestion in three sections - with overtones of Ketèlbey. It ends memorably with the ringing of the midnight bell. Fairy Ships and The Island amble along in tinkling contented Debussian charm. A Haydn-like lightness of spirit mixed with folk-feeling is to be found in Minuet. 

Agnew's Rabbit Hill and are in the folksy idiom of Moeran and Bax. The stony bell-like dramatic statements of Fairy Dell recall the solo part in Moeran's Rhapsody No. 3 for piano and orchestra. His Sleeping Child is a slow-swinging lullaby. Fairy Dell and Starry Night are harmonically more complicated and impressionistic - essentially warm and intimate. A Country Lane is closer to Hutchens than we are accustomed to from Agnew. 

Miriam Hyde's The Fountain is another reflection but is much more emphatic that many of the pieces here. One gets the impression that Cislowska relishes the variety offered by this piece. Arthur Benjamin's Song brings us a step closer to Finzi and Howells especially to Finzi. I mentioned sentimentality in the case of Alfred Hill. To finish the anthology comes Grainger's Irish Tune - itself an exercise in the sentimental. It is presented here straight-faced and with no hint of condescension. 

CD 2 continues the always pleasing, unassuming, tuneful and fanciful vein. 

Grainger’s Gum-Suckers' March and Colonial Song are works dating from the teens of the last century. They are sentimental in the manner of the music-hall and jaunty in the case of the March. The simple and affecting Sussex Carol is unadorned - with none of the populist sweeteners found in the other two pieces. 

Mirrie Hill was the wife of composer Alfred Hill and her Leafy Lanes of Kent is cool, dappled and in the manner of Moeran's piano solos but with an easier languidly melodic tone. This is almost impressionistic; more so than her husband's regretful miniature Come Again Summer. Alfred Hill was a determined traditionalist with his Leipzig training leaving a Mendelssohnian trail over a life-time of composition. 

Frank Hutchens' innocently playful pixy dream, At the Bathing Pool momentarily recalls Mussorgsky's Unhatched Chicks. By the River suggests a warmly chuckling brook. Evening is a Debussian suggestion - a child's drift from reflection into sleep. It is wonderfully carried off by Cislowska. Hutchens was born in New Zealand but made his career in Australia. Both Goossens and Hutchens wrote Phantasy Concertos for piano and orchestra. 

Poetry and violence are to be found in the Roy Agnew items. Autumn Morning, A Child's Dream (a cradle song - gravely beautiful as if shaped by Ravel's Ma mère l'oye), Toccata (pretty bell-like chatter) and Before Dawn (ominously wistful) reflect the poetic strand. Trains breaks the spell with clangour, discord and the motor activity of Prokofiev and Bartók and even a nod towards Gershwin. The Dance of the Wild Men carries the impress of Prokofiev. It is dedicated to Moiseiwitsch who played Agnew's music during the composer's stay in England. Gieseking and Cortot also took a practical interest in Agnew. 

Lindley Evans - born in South Africa but settled in Australia - is represented by the musing sentimental sigh of Vignette, the jaunty-humorous Merrythought - a Howellsian title, if ever there was one - which has much in common with Grainger, and Rhapsody which is darker, glinting and robustly sentimental. 

These two discs of pleasing and usually contemplative miniatures will delight anyone who responds to the English pastoral school. Indeed England can be felt as a distinctive influence. The unbridled Antipodean character, vigorous, unabashed and emotional, can be heard in the Grainger and Lindley Evans. The energy of a Young World paralleling Cowell, Mossolov, Ornstein, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Goossens is there in Agnew's Trains and Wild Men. 

Such a pity that Cislowska was never drawn to a similar recital of the solo piano miniatures of Greville Cooke - when will we hear his Cormorant Crag, High Marley Rest, Reef's End and Haldon Hills?, Cuthbert Nunn, Harry Farjeon, Ernest Farrar, John Pullein and Norman Peterkin. 

In Ghost Ship the first disc is Russian. Cislowska leads us with wit through Rachmaninov's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Hopak from the opera Sorochintsi Fair. The Tchaikovsky October is haltingly sentimental. Rachmaninov's own Elegy op. 3 no. 1 is plangent and emotive, proceeding with infinite care yet with the pianist preserving the vulnerable momentum. Back to wit in the grotesquerie of the Humoresque by Levine. Cislowska’s Rachmaninov C sharp minor Prelude has a majestic tread and the dark whirlpool that is the Prelude in B flat major has all the romantic panache you could ask. There’s a lot of Scriabin on this disc and of this the most charming is his Prelude in F sharp minor op. 16 no.5. The darkest and most shudderingly entrancing is the Poem in D major. Rebikov's Musical Snuffbox is the last track and its cut-glass innocent chiming makes a magical brevity to end a fine collection. 

The second disc of Ghost Ship further explores the dusty piano stool drawer and opens with Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns as arranged by Liszt. Cislowska gives it a very deliberate swell and it works well even if it sounds quite evocative of Rachmaninov at times. Grieg's Elves Dance takes us not that far from The Hall of the Mountain King without the threat. Levitski's Enchanted Nymph is tenderly hypnotic with occasional flurries of activity. Tausig's Ghost Ship is not merely abandoned, it arises out of mists dramatically peopled with wraiths and ghouls. Philip's Puck is a gawky sprite given to sentimental indulgence. Dvořák's Old Castle is an atmospheric poem rather than tracking the morbid sagas of Erben. The melodramatics of Smetana's Macbeth and the Witches befits the subject and is a great step forward from the boy-scout campfire romp of Verdi’s opera dances. The reflective and gentle Solitary Traveller by Grieg prepares the ground for two Liszt instalments: the fey Die Lorelei and the rumbling thunder of Funérailles. 

The single CD under the title Persian Hours explores the Mysteries - mostly Oriental. The radiance of calm is conveyed through the three Gymnopédies distributed in singles across the disc rather than grouped together. No.1 is followed by the lapping-swirls of Gnossiene No.1. American composer Schwantner's Veiled Autumn tolls sweetly and hypnotically. A delicate tracery and sonorous manner is revealed in Koechlin's Evening Song, Dawn Serenade and Hills at Sunset which link with his later orchestral philosophical epics such Vers La Voute Etoilé. The suggestion of the Orient can be heard in Gnossiene No. 3 if not in the clearer and steadily burning daylight of Gnossiene No. 5. Hovhaness breaks out in innocent songlike speech in Vision of a Starry Night from Sonata Ananda. More representative of the Hovhaness mainstream are the de profundis depths of the Andante from Ananda and the liquid Eastern clarity of Mystic Flute which is redolent of de Hartmann. More dissonant, perhaps in the manner of Urmis Sisask - whose starry preludes merit a place here - is Gorecki's blue-cold dazzling Intermezzo. What could this be an intermezzo to? Less dissonant but just as intriguing is the Berio Water-Piano. The Australian composer David Chesworth was researching an opera on a cosmonaut marooned in space. He was set wondering about the great 'mechanism' of the cosmos, slowly turning. Its intricately engaging cogs are mirrored in his slow-pulsed Apparent Heavenly Movement. We end with the steadily minimalist Part's Fur Alina.
 

This is an original and unhackneyed collection which is likely to yield far more discoveries than old friends. It is recorded by the brilliant and sensitive Tamara Anna Cislowska. Not to be overlooked.

Rob Barnett

Full tracklisting:

CD1
Lindley EVANS (1895-1962) Lavender Time
Alfred HILL (1870-1960) One Came Fluting
Lindley EVANS Fragrance
Frank HUTCHENS (1892-1965) Two Little Birds
Lindley EVANS Lullaby
Roy AGNEW (1893-1944) Rabbit Hill
Frank HUTCHENS Sunday Morning; The Enchanted Isle
Miriam HYDE (1913-2005) The Fountain
Alfred HILL Doves; The Poet Dreams; Valse Triste
Frank HUTCHENS arr. Tamara Anna Cislowska: Cinderella from The Cinderella Suite
Frank HUTCHENS Fairy Ships
Roy AGNEW Fairy Dell from Rural Sketches; Starry Night from Rural Sketches; A Country Lane
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960) A Song with a Sad Ending - from Fantasies, Book 1
Frank HUTCHENS The Island
Alfred HILL Dancing Faun
Frank HUTCHENS Weeping Mist; Minuet
Percy GRAINGER (1892-1961) Irish Tune from County Derry
CD 2
Percy GRAINGER The Gum-Suckers' March
Mirrie HILL (1892-1986) The Leafy Lanes of Kent
Percy GRAINGER Colonial Song
Frank HUTCHENS At the Bathing Pool
Roy AGNEW An Autumn Morning; Toccata
Lindley EVANS Vignette; Merrythought
Frank HUTCHENS By the River
Lindley EVANS Rhapsody
Frank HUTCHENS Evening
Roy AGNEW A Child's Dream from Contrasts - Trains
Percy GRAINGER The Sussex Mummers' Christmas Carol
Alfred HILL Come Again Summer
Roy AGNEW Before Dawn; Dance of the Wild Men
CD 3
Modeste MUSSGORSKY (1839-1881) arr. Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Hopak from Sorochintsi Fair
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) October: Autumn Song from The Seasons, Op. 37b (No. 10)
Mili Alekseyevich BALAKIREV (1837-1910) The Lark - concert transcription of the song by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857)
Sergei RACHMANINOV Elegy in E-flat minor, Op. 3 No. 1
Aleksandr Nikolayevich SKRYABIN (1872-1915) Mazurka in E minor, Op. 25 No. 3; Prelude in G-flat major (Lento), Op. 11 No. 13; Prelude in E minor (Lento), Op. 11 No. 4; Prelude in D major (Andante cantabile), Op. 11 No. 5
Josef LEVINE (1874-1944) Humoresque
Aleksandr Nikolayevich SKRYABIN Etude in C-sharp minor (Andante), Op. 2 No. 1
Sergei RACHMANINOV Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2
Aleksandr Nikolayevich SKRYABIN Prelude in F-sharp major (Allegretto), Op. 16 No. 5; Prelude in E-flat minor (Lento), Op. 16 No. 4
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Nocturne in F major, Op. 10 No. 1
Aleksandr Nikolayevich SKRYABIN Poem in F-sharp major, Op. 32 No. 1; Poem in D major, Op. 32 No. 2
Sergei RACHMANINOV Prelude in B-flat major (Maestoso), Op. 23 No. 2
Aleksandr Nikolayevich SKRYABIN Etude in F-sharp major (Andante), Op. 42 No. 4
Sergei RACHMANINOV Prelude in B minor, Op. 32 No. 10
Aleksandr Nikolayevich SKRYABIN Allegro de concert, Op. 18
Vladimir Ivanovich REBIKOV (1866-1920) The Musical Snuffbox
CD 4
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921) arr. Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Danse macabre
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Elves' Dance from Lyric Pieces, Op. 12 (No. 4)
Mischa LEVITSKI (1898-1941) The Enchanted Nymph
Carl TAUSIG (1841-1871) The Ghost Ship, Op. 1
Isidore PHILIPP (1863-1958) Puck, Op. 23
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) The Old Castle, B161 No. 3
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884) Macbeth and the Witches
Edvard GRIEG Solitary Traveller from Lyric Pieces, Op. 43 (No. 2)
Franz LISZT The Lorelei; Funérailles (Funeral) from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses
CD 5
Erik SATIE (1866-1925) Gymnopedie No. 1; Gnossienne No. 1
Joseph SCHWANTNER (b. 1943) Veiled Autumn
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950) Chant du soir (Evening Song) from The Persian Hours, Op. 65
Erik SATIE Gnossienne No. 3; Gnossienne No. 5
Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000) Vision of a Starry Night (Fourth Movement) from Sonata Ananda, Op. 303
Charles KOECHLIN Aubade (Dawn Serenade) from The Persian Hours
Henryk GORECKI (b. 1933) Intermezzo
Alan HOVHANESS Mystic Flute, Op. 22
Charles KOECHLIN Les collines, au coucher du soleil (The Hills at Sunset) from The Persian Hours
Erik SATIE Gymnopedie No. 2
Luciano BERIO (1925-2003) Wasserklavier (Water Piano)
Charles KOECHLIN En vue de la ville (In View of the City) from The Persian Hours
Erik SATIE Chorale No. 10
Alan HOVHANESS Andante (First Movement) from Sonata Ananda
Erik SATIE Gymnopedie No. 3
Charles KOECHLIN Sieste, avant le depart (Rest before Departure) from The Persian Hours
David CHESWORTH (b. 1958) Apparent Heavenly Movement
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935) Fur Alina

 

 


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