The significance of this set is way beyond what a brief perusal
of the track-listings would suggest. I imagine that to most
non-specialist listeners the names of the composers will be
just that: names. A few enthusiasts of British music may well
have come across the relatively recent Hyperion disc of Francis
Edward Bache’s fine Piano Concerto or the English Piano Trio’s
reading of the same composer’s eponymous work. Organists will
have heard of William Wolstenholme. Nearly everyone will know
Edward German, even if it is only the fact that he wrote an
opera called Merrie England. Other names may have been
glimpsed in piles of music on sale in second-hand music shops.
However, it is the generally unknown quantities of most of the
composers and virtually all of the musical works presented that
makes this a special - and exciting - recording.
All recitalists are aware of their market. Some may be able
to play exactly what they want to play. Generally, they will
have to choose repertoire that is likely to appeal to the widest
possible range of concertgoers. This means that most programmes
of music are made up of the so-called ‘greats’. I guess few
recitals will pass muster unless there is a smattering of Chopin,
Liszt, Rachmaninov and Debussy. Naturally, there will be many
concerts featuring the sonatas of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert.
However, these are often very limited in their explorations.
Certain ‘popular’ works are heard with wearying regularity.
Evenings devoted to Bach, Haydn and Schumann tend to be largely
predictable in their repertoire. Sometimes there are surveys
of uncharted territory but these are often balanced by ‘warhorses’.
Yet, when pianists turn to British music for their recitals
the range of repertoire is even more limited. One may include
the John Ireland and Frank Bridge Sonatas and that is about
it. Rarely are there miniatures, tone pictures or suites heard
from these composers or from their less-well-known compatriots.
What is extremely unusual is to have an extensive recital of
British piano music garnered from the breadth of English piano
music repertoire, including composers who are largely forgotten
– or were never really known in the first place. This CD sets
out to remedy this omission.
In the early nineteenth century, travel became a more realistic
proposition for tourists to explore the sights and sounds of
Europe and even further afield. This coincided with a revived
appreciation of ‘the picturesque value of the former classical
world’. There were large numbers of artists, writers, historians
and the downright curious who chose to make their way to Italy
and to Greece. The reader may think of Lord Byron, Robert Browning,
J.M.W. Turner, John Henry Newman and John Ruskin. In later years
novelists such as E.M. Forester, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley
were ‘intrigued by the clash of civilisations that tended to
accompany the British tourist as he (or she) roamed the Italian
cities and countryside’. Naturally, this freedom was only available
to certain groups of people. Most folk still did not travel
further than Hampstead Heath or Heaton Park for their unwaged
Christopher Howell believes that it would have been good to
find a musical counterpart to these Victorian, Edwardian and
Georgian tourists. Alas there is no evidence that this is the
case. For example, there is no equivalent of Franz Liszt’s magisterial
Années de Pèlerinage. However, we do know that Elgar
visited Italy, Parry the South of France and Arthur Sullivan
travelled extensively in Europe. Yet, amongst the pages of forgotten
and yellowing scores, there are many works that have taken Italy
as their inspiration. Whether the composer ever actually visited
the country or got no further than a café-bar in Soho is largely
irrelevant. It is the impression on the listener that is the
most important factor. For this recording Christopher Howell
has explored a huge range of music to find this collection of
The major work on this double-CD set is Francis Edward Bache’s
impressive cycle of music entitled Souvenirs d’Italie.
This is the nearest that any composer on these CDs has come
to emulating the Liszt master-work referred to above – at least
in concept if not quite in technical and emotional achievement.
This collection of eight pieces is worthy of both composer and
pianist. The various numbers are certainly ‘conservative’ in
their musical language – looking towards Mendelssohn and John
Field. Liszt and Chopin are also present in these pages. The
other influences that Howell notes - Steibelt, Dussek and Woelfl
- may suggest that Bache is writing pastiche. Yet this would
be a wrong assumption. This is a successful collection of pieces
that is wholly self-consistent. It is a work that I would like
to spend more time listening to and studying. Finally, I do
hope that Christopher Howell may one day choose to record Bache’s
‘companion’ piece to this suite – the evocatively titled Souvenirs
The composer William Vincent Wallace is in this compilation
by default. He was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1814 and died
in Château de Bagen, Sauveterre de Comminges, near Barbazon,
Haute Garonne, France. For much of his life he travelled the
world giving recitals composing music and generally having adventures.
He latterly became (?) an American citizen. Wallace is probably
best known for his opera Maritana (1845). Two of the
three works presented here are transcriptions of operatic numbers.
The first is based on Gaetano Donizetti’ aria ‘Ange si pur’
from La Favourite. The second is the exciting Fantasia de Salon
sur Motifs de Lucrezia Borgia by the same composer. Both works
pass the ‘Liszt’ test, as Howell has called it: if you did not
know the source of the music, you would hardly guess the source
from which it was derived. Each is a worthy piece of music even
when divorced from its context. The first piece by Wallace is
the La Gondola: Souvenir de Venise (Nocturne) with
the inevitable ‘water’ lapping at the sides of this ever so
stereotypical mode of transport. However it is a well-wrought
Edward Sydney Smith (1839-1889) is known, where at all, for
his huge contribution to so-called salon music in the mid-1800s.
I first came across his invariably difficult music in the Star
Folio Series of Piano Music. I could not play these pieces
then and am still beaten by them today. His music is highly
technical, if clichéd, using a variety of pianistic devices
that owe much to Liszt and Chopin. The four works presented
here are typical of his art. They are all musically effective
and largely enjoyable. It is a pity that so little of his music
is available on CD. Perhaps the most impressive is the short
Morceau de Concert-Danse Napolitaine. However, I did
especially enjoy the romantic Siesta-Reverie.
The first CD closes with a very short piano duet by William
Wolstenholme (1865-1931): the ‘lilting’ and wistful waltz ‘Venice’
is a pure delight.
Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) has been revived to a certain extent
in recent years. His Violin Concerto was an important discovery
from a few years ago. Hyperion recently released his excellent
Piano Concerto in A minor and the concerted Normandy Variations.
The Symphony Thalassa has recently been released on
Cameo Classics (CC9034CD). The present work is a tiny Tarantella,
which is such a typically Italian dance. It has a largely classical
rather than a romantic or ‘modern’ mood.
Maude Valerie White (1863-1937) is the only English-woman in
Italy presented here. Her four sketches From the Ionian
Sea is a fascinating discovery. The first two pieces, a
Pastorale and a ‘Canzone di Taormina’ are [possibly] based on
Sicilian folk-tunes, whilst the Tarantella is original. The
final piece, ‘Land of the Almond Blossom’ is dedicated to HRH
The Prince of Wales – who was later Edward VIII. It is a lovely
romantic little number. The entire set of sketches is well-crafted
and is a pleasure to hear.
Edward German’s ‘Tarantella’ is a fine example of this genre.
It is quite romantic and definitely Italian in its sound-world.
In fact Christopher Howell has suggested that ‘the introduction
provides an uncanny presage of young Italians revving up their
motorbikes while waiting on the traffic lights to change.’
Relatively little is known about composer and pianist Frank
Merrick (1886-1981). However, based on his thrilling ‘Tarantella’
- yet another example of this infectious dance - I believe that
he deserves further exploration. (See Editor’s note below).
Ernest Markham Lee is one of those composers, who like Alec
Rowley, Felix Swinstead and Thomas Dunhill, the aspiring pianist
used to come across in their ‘grades.’ Even today, it is not
surprising to find their
music on sale in second-hand bookshops. Lee’s music often had
picturesque titles that did not always live up to their name.
The present offering of Nights in Venice is a comely
work that is certainly not ‘virtuosic’ yet neither is it trite.
The opening ‘Southern Skies – Nocturne’ is for me the highlight
of this Suite. ‘Carnival’ balances the dichotomy between the
gay and the sinister aspects of this great Venetian festival.
The finale, ‘On the Lagoon’ is Oh so very short. This is beautiful
music. On a serious note, Markham Lee’s son had been killed
in action in Italy during the Great War – so there may well
be hidden depths behind the seeming light music mood of much
of this music.
Many years ago I bought a second-hand copy of Eaton Faning’s
fine Sorrento - Danza in modo di Tarantella. Alas,
when I got it home and tried to play it I found two problems.
It was too difficult and most of the pages were missing. I booked
the loss of ‘five bob’ down to experience. Therefore it is good
to meet up with this piece all these years later. Howell notes
minor allusions to Elgar’s Overture: In the South and
Richard Strauss’s Aus Italien. It is a good call. Lookout
for the attractive whole tone scales and rich chromaticism.
Finally I was right back then – this piece is no cinch.
Henry Geehl is better known to enthusiasts of brass band music.
He is known to have scored Holst’s A Moorside Suite
for that genre. A whiff of ‘scandal’ exists in so far as Geehl
claimed that he arranged Edward Elgar’s Severn Suite
for the same medium. However, this has been disputed: a complete
brass band score in Elgar’s hand has been discovered. Anyhow,
there is no dispute that Geehl wrote a deal for piano including
this ravishing The Bay of Naples Suite. To be fair
it is light music rather than a Ravelian impressionistic picture
of the region. However, the four pieces are enjoyable. My personal
favourite is the opening ‘Moonlight on the Bay of Naples.’ The
‘Canzonetta’ is also attractive and the ‘Serenade d’amour’ is
melodic and serves its purpose as the romantic slow movement.
The final ‘Tambour Dance’ is fun to listen to. I must get hold
of the music – it might just be in my gift to play this.
I think that Rapallo is the first piece of music by
Ronald Swaffield (1889-1962) that I have heard. I have listed
the pieces published by him on my ‘blog’.
Unlike the Geehl, this work is impressionistic. It ‘describes’
the Ligurian seas-side resort in a most picturesque and romantic
number. Alongside Ravel, Howell notes Warlock and Moeran as
possible influences on the harmonic structure of this work.
It was composed in 1937.
The last tarantella is actually called ‘Tarantula’ and is provided
by Cyril Scott. It is a masterpiece of virtuosic piano sound.
It certainly presents mental images of the ‘beastie’ for which
the dance was meant to have originally been a cure or protection
I am delighted that Christopher Howell has chosen to record
some pieces by Harry Farjeon. This composer joins that huge
rank of the ‘unjustly forgotten’. Farjeon’s contribution to
piano music is two-fold. Firstly, he wrote a considerable amount
of picturesquely-titled pieces that capture the imagination.
Many of these are within the ability of the so-called ‘gifted
amateur’. However, he is never condescending to lesser mortals.
Every one of his works that I have heard or played through is
genuinely musical and is technically competent - irrespective
of its difficulty. Secondly, Farjeon has contributed a number
of major works including an (apparently) splendid piano concerto
and a fine Piano Sonata. He is a composer that surely deserves
at the very least one retrospective CD. The two works - five
numbers - that are heard on this CD adequately prove my point
Having recently been to Venice, I warmed to Farjeon’s impressionistic
studies of life in the Lagoon – Three Venetian Idylls,
Op.20. The first piece is a reflective ‘Nocturne’ – which is
simply gorgeous. No Venetian musical picture would be complete
without the ‘barcarolle’ with its watery sound. Once again Farjeon
hits the mark: this is so Italian that you could lick the ice-cream
off the music. The final ‘Valse Fugitive’ is introverted, however,
it is beautiful. In fact there is a sense of the ‘nocturne’
about all these pieces. One of my favourites on this CD.
The pianist gives us another taste of Harry’s - did he know
the Bar, I wonder - view of the Barcarolle. This time he presents
a sophisticated, almost ‘cocktail bar’ style of music. I love
every bar of this dishy, romantic piece.
The last two pieces on this release are also by Farjeon – the
Two Italian Sketches for piano duet. These are perhaps
the most enigmatic pieces in this recital. The first is ‘On
the Water’ – it could almost be describing the progress of one
of the unique funeral gondolas occasionally seen in Venice.
The second piece is the brittle ‘On the Road’. It is possibly
a nod towards the great Italian composer Alfredo Casella.
This new double-CD from Sheva is essential listening for all
enthusiasts of English piano music. It goes further than this.
These discs present a number of undoubted ‘minor masterpieces’.
If they had been composed by a ‘continental’ composer with a
French or a German name they may have retained a place in the
There is always a danger when approaching repertoire that is
unknown or is unjustifiably deemed unworthy, to ‘ham up’ the
performance. Some performers may adopt a condescending approach
to interpretation. They could over-sentimentalise or over-state
some of the obvious musical clichés that some of these works
display. I think of the ‘English’ Liszt, Sydney Smith. However,
Christopher Howell, who is assisted by Emanno De Stefani in
the piano duets, takes all these pieces seriously.
This set is excellent value at £15 and can be purchased through
International. There is a grand total of 146 minutes of
music presented. The quality of the sound is excellent. The
liner notes by Howell are essential reading: I suggest that
the listener peruse each note before approaching these pieces.
I have two aspirations for English (British) piano music. The
first is that recitalists begin to take up the ‘masterworks’.
These include the ‘big’ sonatas by Frank Bridge, John Ireland,
Cyril Scott, Benjamin Dale, Arthur Bliss, Leo Livens and Harry
Farjeon. One can point to the sterling work in this direction
by Mark Bebbington, Peter Jacobs, Eric Parkin and Ashley Wass.
However there is a restricted availability of English piano
pieces presented at recitals as opposed to CDs. Secondly, I
wish that every pianist would include at least one piece by
a relatively unknown composer in every recital that they play.
Even if this piece is deemed to be a ‘teaching’ piece it may
still be worthy. For example, I can battle through a fair few
pieces by Harry Farjeon, Ernest Markham Lee and Edward German.
However it would be lovely to hear ‘definitive’ performances
of these works. So amongst the Rachmaninoff, the Chopin and
the Brahms an occasional number by Sydney Smith, Cyril Scott,
Henry Geehl, Alec Rowley and Thomas Dunhill should surely be
Meanwhile Christopher Howell has made a sterling effort at introducing
a ‘lost’ repertoire to the interested musical public. It is
a worthy cause. Let us hope that he is not merely a voice crying
in the wilderness.
I hope that Sheva will explore many more pieces by these and
other forgotten British composers. Christopher Howell knows
that he can always ask me for a thousand and one suggestions
– although I think that he may well have a fair few numbers
up his sleeve.
see also reviews by John
Sheppard and Byzantion
Frank Merrick (a draft entry with acknowledgement to Grove
MERRICK, Frank [Clifton, Bristol, 30.4.1886 - 1981]
Pianist and teacher. His parents were musically inclined. His father (1854 - 1941) was also a D. Mus, Dublin, and had the same Christian name. His mother was Irish. Both parents were his first music teachers. In 1898 they passed the young Merrick into the hands of the famous Theodor Leschetizky (1830 - 1915) at Vienna with whom Merrick stayed until 1901 working with Leschetizky's assistant, Malwine Brée. Returned for further tuition with Leschetizky in 1905. M. Mus. Bristol. FRCM. FTCL. Merrick's first concert was given at Clifton, Bristol in November 1895 in aid of Barnardo's Homes. He made his first London concert appearance in March 1903 at the Bechstein Hall. He also toured as accompanist with Clara Butt. Toured Australia in 1907. In 1911 he married the composer, pianist and teacher Hope Squire, a pupil of Dohnanyi. Later re-married. Professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music from 1910 to 1929. During the First World War he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector at Wormwood Scrubs. He used his time in prison to teach himself Esperanto. In 1929 he moved to the staff of the RCM remaining there until 1956 when he was employed at Trinity College of Music. On 15.10.1933 Merrick gave the first performance of John Foulds' Dynamic Triptych for piano and orchestra with the Reid Orchestra conducted by Sir Donald Tovey. On 4.8.1933 he gave the first broadcast performance of the Dynamic Triptych with the BBC Orchestra under Sir Dan Godfrey. He was amongst the first pianists to broadcast for the BBC from Savoy Hill. The Prize which Merrick won for his two movement completion of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony recognised the straightforward and simple treatment of the task undertaken and of Merrick's love and respect for Schubert. Grove comments also on the successful imitation of Schubert's style and idiom. He edited a students’ edition of Chopin's works. He also prepared accompaniments in contemporary style to sonatas for violin and figured bass by Veracini, in D minor and E minor, and by Purcell in G minor. His tastes in music he performed was wide although he specialised in modern music including Prokofiev, Ireland and Bax. Bax dedicated his Paean
to Merrick. He studied and gave concert performances with his first wife of many rarely heard works for two pianos. Merrick gave the first performances in this country of Prokofiev's Piano Sonatas 2 to 7. Later he recorded the 3rd and 4th Sonatas for the Frank Merrick Society. John Field was another composer whose works he championed. His interest in Field dated from 1937 when Beecham's secretary asked Merrick to investigate the Field concertos. Merrick recorded Field's Sonata in C minor and a Nocturne in the late 1930s. In the late 1960s he recorded all the Field Piano Concertos, Nocturnes and other works for Rare Recorded Editions. His completion of the Schubert Unfinished
was recorded once by RPO/Stanford Robinson on 78 and also on LP for the Frank Merrick Society. The various records he made late in life only intermittently reflect the depth and brilliance of his technique and artistic insight. The best of these were issued by the Merrick Record Association between 1961 and 1965. He also made a notable series of records for the Concert Artists label of the Bax Violin Sonatas with Henry Holst. He made records of his two piano concertos with semi-professional orchestras for Rare Recorded Editions (SRRE 156 conductor Oliver Broome and anonymous orchestra and SRRE 128 Beckenham Orchestra and John Foster) and of his Bonny Bluebell Variations. He recorded a selection of his songs to English and Esperanto texts with the soprano Stella Wright on Rare Recorded Editions. With Michael Round he recorded initially for Cabaletta, Bax's music for two pianos and Vaughan Williams’ The Running Set. Merrick was also a teacher and counted Rawsthorne amongst his piano pupils. Published a book, Practising The Piano
. He was a vegetarian and a total abstainer from alcohol. CBE 1979. Lived at 5, Horbury Crescent, London.
: Chorus of Echoes for unaccompanied chorus (from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound);
: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat (1901); Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor; Symphony in D minor (1912); Celtic Suite for small orchestra (1920, Blackburn 1923 / Bournemouth Dec 1923); Scherzo and Finale for Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (1923?, the winner in the British division of the Columbia Graphophone Schubert Centenary Competition); Overture; A Dream Pageant for strings; Overture for military band;
: Trio in F sharp minor for piano, violin and cello;
: Piano Sonata; An Ocean Lullaby; Variations on a Somerset Folk-Song, The Bonny Bluebell; Rhapsody in C minor; Paraphrase (in the Bach style) on a Somerset Folk-Song, Hares on the Mountains; (the last four items listed under this heading were included in a programme which gained a Diploma of Honour at the International Rubinstein Competition, Petrograd in August 1910);
: various, including The Four Seasons; The Well; The Black rider; Lullaby; Snow; A Summer Night; and October. Some of the songs set Esperanto texts.