The main event here is Holst’s own two-piano version of The
Planets. This work has impressed and moved me since first
hearing the Scottish National Orchestra playing it more than
forty years ago. When I approached the two-piano version I was
a little wary, and a touch cynical. I need not have worried.
It is a valid account of this work that inspires, excites and
often astounds. The highlight of Goldstone and Clemmow’s playing
has to be the marvellous interpretation of Jupiter
– with its loping march tune. However, the intricacies of Mercury,
the rhythmic drive of Mars, the romance of Venus
and the more rarefied atmosphere of the distant spheres are
Edward Elgar’s Serenade for Strings has always been
one of my favourites in the string orchestra medium. However,
I am not sure that I need a recording of a piano duet version.
On the other hand, it is interesting to hear. There is a clarity
about this duet that allows the harmonic and melodic progress
to be heard in detail. I guess that it is good to have in my
collection; nonetheless, I will not turn to this version in
preference to Boult or Barbirolli and the band.
I have not come across the music of Frank Bury before. He was
killed during the Normandy landings in 1944. This beautiful
short Prelude and Fugue demonstrates his compositional skills.
The opening Prelude is a master class in the genre of English
‘pastoral’ whilst the more ambitious fugue nods to Handel in
the ‘theme’. However, the exposition of the fugue is anything
but baroque. Although this big, powerful work is largely ‘conservative’
in its musical language, it manages to push the boundaries towards
an intensity that is almost Prokofiev. I understand this is
the only composition of Bury’s currently available on CD. Based
on this Prelude and Fugue we have to hope there will be a deeper
exploration of this unknown composer. Unfortunately, this present
work would appear to be the only one in print at this time:
I hope someone will tell me that I am wrong on this score.
Edgar L. Bainton is a composer with whom I can do business.
Whether it is one of his three symphonies or the great anthem
‘And I saw a new Heaven’, he always exhibits a craftsman-like
approach to his music: it typically inspires, interests
and moves the listener. As an admirer of Richard Wagner, his
musical style is neo-romantic; this does not imply that he wrote
parodies or pastiches of an earlier generation. The Miniature
Suite for piano duet is a perfect small-scale outing displaying
a typically ‘English’ mood – with nods to Debussy and Vaughan
Williams. There is nothing here of a Wagnerian disposition.
My only criticism is that it is excessively short.
Holst’s ‘Elegy’ (In Memoriam William Morris) is a dark, austere
work that is funereal in its progress. It is written as a processional
march – with a huge climax in the middle section. If I am honest
I prefer the orchestral version, however, the present two-piano
version preserves the dignity of the original. It is difficult
to understand from the liner-notes whether this piece is performed
in the Colin Matthews’ ‘modern performing edition’ or as the
track-listings suggest that it is played directly from Holst’s
own ‘version for two pianos’.
In spite of my reservations about the Elgar ‘Serenade’, this
is an important release from Divine Art. The recording is excellent.
The playing of all the works is superb. The interaction between
Goldstone and Clemmow is tight and always musically convincing.
I do not wish to compare this present version of The Planets
with that of Fiona and John York on Nimbus NI5871. However,
I did suggest in my review of that CD that it was ‘an
achievement that will long stand the test of time and will hardly
be bettered’. Whether the present recording is ‘better’ is largely
irrelevant. Certainly, as far as The Planets is concerned,
it is a little shorter. However, I thoroughly enjoyed both two-piano
versions of this great work. Moreover, the Frank Bury and Edgar
Bainton are attractive bonuses.
Can I point out that the version played here, and the one performed
by the Yorks on the Nimbus disc, are DIFFERENT WORKS…….
The Yorks do not play on two pianos but as a piano duet (on
one instrument) using the version revised from the orchestral
piece by Nora Day and Vally Lasker, under Holst’s supervision
The version on our disc is Holst’s original two –piano
version which PRECEDED the orchestral one…. so has many
differences, and so a direct comparison is rather more problematical.