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