Francis ROUTH (b. 1927)
The Well Tempered Pianist - 24 Preludes for piano , Op.77
Charles Matthews (piano)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 27 March, 27 October 2009, 24 June 2010
REDCLIFFE RECORDINGS RR021 [61:39]
Francis Routh’s Redcliffe label was never going to be a major producer - at least in terms of quantity. Its success lies in its inscape – its nurturing of the music favoured by Routh’s own judgement whether that music be his own or that of Samuel Wesley, Alan Rawsthorne, Alan Bush, Graham Whettam or Priaulx Rainier.
Routh’s music, as represented by these 24 Preludes, is to the point, virile, tonal, vividly precise and animated in its impressionism. Beauty of sound is dominant yet attack and drama are also present. One of the fascinations of these Preludes is the intricately entwined nature of the fast movements (1, 2, 19). These are free-flowing and stormy. The ‘mind-set’ of these pieces stands at the opposite pole to academicism with music that in a small compass can be stern and dramatic, tragic and heroic. In 6 and 13 Routh’s splenetic virtuosity carries all before it in a surging bow-wave. In 20 we find an acrid, intricate and satisfying mix of Shostakovich and Conlon Nancarrow in player-piano mode. This can be contrasted with writing that evokes a grotesque and ruthlessly implacable march. There is time for the pensive and the poetic as well. In 3 and 7 we follow Routh through a surreal world of glint and glimmer. In 10 Chopin and perhaps Cyril Scott are conjoined influences. Preludes 11, 15, 17 and 22 create a dreamy arch with the mind released between waking and sleeping. It is high praise that Routh and Matthews are able to convey this lighter than air liberation - a facility also to be found in the piano music of Estonian composer Urmis Sisask.
The highly adept and sensitive pianist is Charles Matthews (b 1966). His name may be recalled as the pianist who with Richard Crabtree made an Olympia CD (OCD 454) of the viola sonata and other music for solo piano by Arnold Bax. In addition to Routh he has worked with the composers Marcus Davidson, Consuelo Díez and Yuko Katori. He is himself a composer. He studied at the Royal College of Music, London, and was an organ scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge. His numerous awards include first prize in the 1999 Franz Liszt Memorial Competition in Budapest.
The Wyastone Leys complex, in one of the green valleys of Monmouth, is recognised - and quite fittingly – as a prime recording venue and not just the home of Nimbus. I have noticed it recently being favoured by Naxos and this Redcliffe recording was also made there.
Routh is a masterfully modern yet accessible composer whose voice stands in the lineage from Debussy, Scott, Shostakovich and Nancarrow.
Routh’s is a masterfully modern yet accessible composer whose voice stands in the lineage from Debussy, Scott, Shostakovich and Nancarrow.