It is like chalk and cheese…! Just compare ‘Rosamund’ from
Where the Rainbow Ends and ‘At a Country Fair’ from the
Three Pieces. Two works could not be more different. The first
is a dreamy Delius-like meditation on a ‘fair-lady’ complete
with slippery harmonies; the second is almost Bartókian in its
ferocity, fire and sheer power.
For most listeners Roger Quilter’s name will always be associated
with his exquisitely wrought songs that explore such a wide
range of English verse and poetry. However there are a few more
strings to his bow - not least some fine ‘light’ orchestral
works including the once famous Children’s Overture.
There are also a fair few stage works such as the children’s
play Where the Rainbow Ends, incidental music to As
You Like it and to The Rake. Included in his catalogue
are surprising quantities of choral works which seem to be rarely
heard. Finally, there are a number of instrumental works which
include piano solos, and a handful of chamber music pieces for
a variety of ensembles.
The present CD claims to present the complete piano works. I
guess it depends on how one defines ‘complete’. I personally
would have included the piano version of the Children’s Overture,
the Three English Dances and the missing numbers from
Where the Rainbow Ends. After all, one has to assume
that the Rainbow Suite (which is included) was
derived by the composer from the theatre orchestra score or
at the very least the short score.
The works are presented in chronological order, with the exception
of Where the Rainbow Ends which is placed last.
The recital opens with the Three Studies with the first dating
from 1901 and the other two some eight years later. The first,
is I believe the best with its ‘fluid’ mood of ‘waywardness’,
however the second nods to Brahms and the third to Rachmaninov.
All three are worthy pieces that do not deserve their obscurity.
The ‘Three Pieces’ are superb. However, they do not belong together
as a set: the style is totally different. The opening ‘Dance
in the Twilight’ is a competent example of salon music. However
the impressionistic ‘Summer Evening’ is a long, complex piece
that could possibly be regarded as one of Roger Quilter’s masterpieces.
The final ‘At a Country Fair’ is a little aggressive and a million
miles away from the idyllic dreams of the previous piece. The
irregular rhythms and complex pianism suggest a mood more in
keeping with the Balkans rather than Banbury. I have noted Bartok
as a comparison: it is not too far fetched.
The Two Impressions straddle the years of the Great War.
Lapping waters of Thames or the Lido haunt the barcarolle ‘In
a Gondola’ from the first bar to the last. It is an introspective
reflection that utilises the whole-tone scale to create the
enigmatic mood. ‘Lanterns’, which was originally entitled ‘Carnival’,
is probably the most intricate piece on this CD. This is a work
that ‘sparkles and glitters’ with involved harmonies and rhythmic
The last set of pieces is the Four Country Pieces. The
opening ‘Shepherd’s Song’ reminded me of Percy Grainger in its
errant harmonies. It is obviously not a ‘heigh ho’ type of rustic,
but a deeply reflective man or woman who ponders this deeply
felt ‘hymn’. ‘Goblins’ is fun – a bouncy piece that creates
a mental image of a not too scary supernatural creature. Once
again the mood changes: ‘Forest Lullaby’ is a well wrought little
piece that is more akin to a meditation than trying to put the
child to sleep. That said, there is a good use of the rhythm
‘go to sleep’ throughout the piece some lovely harmony and a
well-poised tune that make this a little gem. ‘Pipe & Tabor’
is exactly what it ought to be: a romp through a Hardy-esque
landscape. Lots of fun, but just a hint of a little trouble
somewhere over the horizon.
I first came across Where the Rainbow Ends in an old
ex-library piano score. A few years later I heard the orchestral
suite on the Marco Polo retrospective of Quilter’s orchestral
music. I loved it from the word go. Quilter wrote this incidental
music for this children’s play in 1911 with libretto by Clifford
Mills and John Ramsey. The first performance was at the Savoy
Theatre in London and the cast included Noel Coward and Jack
The music for this play is absolutely gorgeous. Every bar, every
note even, has a sense of magic and wonder. The opening ‘Rosamund’
is utterly beautiful: this is truly heart-easing music at its
most gorgeous. ‘Fairies’ and ‘Will o’ the wisp’ and ‘Goblins’
all appear in this suite. However the heart of the work is the
atmospheric Moonlight on the Lake.
Alas, in spite of a run of some 48 years today’s generation
of children are unlikely to see this magical production. There
is so much that is ‘wrong’ with the story that our politically-correct
age would abhor. We could not possibly have our children and
ourselves traumatised by tales of magic carpets, the notion
that Great Britain counts for something in history, children
in search of their mother and father and the Patron Saint
of England, George being their (and our) protector and guardian!
Meanwhile enjoy this beautiful music: it certainly rewards the
listener and as Percy Grainger once wrote, it is ‘weal-bestowing’
The liner-notes are divided into two parts. The first is an
overview of the works recorded and is preceded by an excellent
mini-biography of the composer by Dr. Valerie Langfield. The
second part is an essay by the David Owen Norris about the pleasure
and problems of playing Quilter’s music, although he does not
actually mention the composer till more than half way through!
I would have liked the CD to be a bit longer: certainly the
inclusion of the English Dances and the Overture would
have scraped it beyond the hour mark. Certainly 47 minutes does
seem a wee bit skimpy [however the asking price
does take this into account - Len].
However, this is a great CD that explores a repertoire that
has been largely forgotten, or at best has been hidden on a
number of reasonably obscure and often hard-to-find recordings.
David Owen Norris is a great advocate for this music and presents
it with enthusiasm and sympathy. He has a gift for taking pieces
that may just be on the cusp of being ephemeral salon pieces
(Dance in the Twilight) and presenting them as if they were
an integral part of the piano repertoire that reflects the dynamic
pianism of the English Musical Renaissance. Perhaps he ought
to turn his attention to the piano music of that triumvirate
of didactic composers, Messrs Swinstead, Dunhill and Rowley?
The piece that most surprised me has to be the Bartókian ‘At
a Country Fair’, however my favourite piece is ‘Summer Evening’
with its evocation of an English landscape that is captured
in the fine cover picture by Wilfrid de Glehn, ‘The Picnic’.
It is a masterpiece that rivals anything by John Ireland or
see also reviews
by Nick Barnard and Rob Barnett