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An English Recital
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 - 1958)
The Lake in the Mountains (1947) [3:14]
Hymn-Tune Prelude on 'Song 12' by Orlando Gibbons (1928) [3:11]
Suite of Six Short Pieces (published 1921) [11:30]
Gustav HOLST (1874 - 1934)
Two Pieces for Piano (1930/2) [6:02]
Two Northumbrian Folk Tunes (1927) [3:04]
John IRELAND (1879 - 1962)
Sonatina (1927) [9:11]
Arnold BAX (1883 - 1953)
Allegretto quasi andante (1932) [5:38]
Peter WARLOCK (1894 - 1930)
Five Folk-Song Preludes (1918) [10:40]
Ernest John MOERAN (1894 - 1950)
Bank holiday (1925) [2:15]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 - 1976)
Night Piece (1963) [6:39]
John JOUBERT (b. 1927)
Dance Suite Op.21 (1958) [8:34]
John McCabe (piano)
rec. St. George the Martyr, Holborn, London, 20 May 1972 and London, 20-22 May 1968 (Britten)
BMS103CDH [70:12]
Experience Classicsonline

All these works but two (Britten's Night Piece and Joubert's Dance Suite Op.21) have been available on a now long-deleted Decca Ace of Diamonds LP (SDD444) of which I still have a cherished and rather worn-out copy. That was a disc that attracted me at the time because of a few “rarities” included in the programme. One of these rarities was Warlock's Five Folk-Song Preludes that caught my imagination because up to that time I only knew the Capriol Suite and a handful of songs. That was a disc that I enjoyed listening to and I am now delighted to be able to review its latest reincarnation.

Vaughan Williams composed relatively little of any real substance for piano, if one excepts his Piano Concerto, but the short pieces heard here are nevertheless quite fine and typical of the composer, the Hymn-Tune Prelude particularly so. The Suite of Six Short Pieces is a delightful set of endearing miniatures that transcends its overtly didactic purposes. The Lake in the Mountains is a short tone-poem based on material from the film 49th Parallel.

Much the same could be said about Holst who, too, wrote very little for piano. The Two Pieces for Piano (Nocturne and Jig) were composed for his daughter Imogen whereas the Two Northumbrian Folk Tunes is a short diptych consisting of a fairly developed arrangement of a folk song - what a fine tune this is! - and a “sparkling, tiny piece” (John McCabe) to round it off.

Although it is rather compact, Ireland's Sonatina somewhat belies its diminutive title, in that the content of it is but a far cry from the often lighter music one has come to expect from such a piece. The music is fairly austere, though I find it typical of its composer, and the work has a whole remains enigmatic. By the way, am I the only one to hear hints of the Piano Concerto in the first movement of the Sonatina?

Bax's Allegretto quasi andante is actually the slow movement of his Fourth Piano Sonata, but stands remarkably well on its own because of its beautiful main theme. By the way, a recording of Bax's Fourth Piano Sonata is available on BMS434-435CD played by Malcolm Binns.

I must admit that I was a bit puzzled when I first came to know Warlock's Five Folk-Songs Preludes because I found this predominantly slow music rather at odds with better-known arrangements. Now, Warlock was something of an outsider casting a severe glance at things that resulted in far from jolly pieces. Just think of his masterly The Curlew or some of his songs such as The Fox. John McCabe, however, rightly suggests that Warlock was probably more aware of “the genuinely tragic motivation behind much folksong” than, say, of its aesthetic. The music is mostly slow and this short cycle culminates in a long Largo maestoso, almost as long as the other movements put together. This is a much neglected though quite impressive work for all its brevity.

Moeran's Bank Holiday with his 'Grainger-esque' vitality is in complete contrast to Warlock's introverted piece. This is a delightful miniature of great fun.

Although he was a brilliant pianist, Britten composed very little for his instruments and some of his works published late in his life or after his death were actually quite early pieces, such as Five Waltzes, so that his Night Piece composed for the 1963 Leeds International Piano Competition is a rare example of a mature work for piano by Britten. Hearing this finely crafted piece, one wished that Britten had composed more for the piano.

As far as I am concerned, it is always nice to hear a work by John Joubert. His Dance Suite Op.21 is new to me, I must say. This short suite alternates three fast dances and two slower ones. The fast movements carry faint echoes of Bartók, and none the worse for that whereas the slower dances still nod towards Britten; but the music is entirely Joubert's own.

This beautifully produced release is a timely tribute to John McCabe on his 70th birthday and a well-deserved homage to his unflagging dedication to British music.

Hubert Culot


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