William Vincent WALLACE (1812-1865)
Chopinesque: Polonaise de Wilna (pub. 1868) [4.20];* Nocturne mélodique (1847) [6.33]; La sympathie (1844) [3.36]; Le zephyr (1848) [4.56]; Souvenir de Cracovie (1864) [3.33]; Woodland murmurs (1844) [2.29]; Le chant des oiseaux (1852) [4.20]; Valse brillante (1848) [5.26]; Au bord de la mer (1849) [6.04]; Varsovie (1852) [4.45]; Nocturne Op.20/1 (1852) [1.52]; Souvenir de Naples (1854) [4.39]; La brunette (1853) [5.24]; Innocence (1850) [1.49]; Victoire (1862) [2.31]; La grace (1850) [3.28]; Grande Fantaisie La Cracovienne (1842) [13.34]
Rosemary Tuck (piano)
*Richard Bonynge (piano) (Polonaise)
The Tait Chamber Orchestra/Richard Bonynge (Grande Fantasie)
rec. Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset, *6 March 2011 and 17-18 October 2011: +St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, London, 24 November 2011
NAXOS 8.572776 [79:20]
It is amazing that of the many CD labels only Naxos has recognized the importance of Wallace’s bicentenary in 2012 and has celebrated this corner of British heritage. Wallace wrote many pianoforte pieces and six operas all of which were premièred at London’s biggest opera houses, Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Her Majesty’s. In 2012 there have been a number of celebrations around the world: In Ireland there were three big events, in Australia two and in the UK one. Surprisingly, the composer did not feature in any of the BBC Proms concerts and so one is cheered that we have a number of recordings - mainly Naxos – through which to hear the merits of this composer.
As a virtuoso pianist and violinist with considerable technical skills, Wallace toured the continents and would earn lucrative fees by holding impressive concerts. Most of the pieces on this CD were composed during his two stays in the Americas and were published in New York when he lived there between 1852 and 1858. Wallace seemed sometimes to put different names to a piece, done no doubt to let publishers think that they were freshly composed. Consequently, one or two of the dates given may not indicate an exact point of composition.
The title of this disc is apt since there is a ring of Chopin in a number of these pieces. The rich harmonics, generous arpeggios and scale ornamentation are all savoured in this recording expertly handled by Rosemary Tuck. Apart from an association with Chopin I notice that some of the pieces veer towards Delibes in their balletic qualities - but Delibes’ compositions trailed those of Wallace by around a decade. The Polonaise de Wilna, where Richard Bonynge joins Rosemary Tuck, is a delicate and elegant piece for four hands, its balletic style being sympathetically interpreted. The Nocturne Mélodique has endearing Chopinesque moments with a zither-like tremolando. Its semitone-climbing bass line hints at Wallace’s opera, Lurline, with its similarity to the memorable cello line in When the Night Winds sweep the Wave. The piece sounds particularly well set within the acoustics of Forde Abbey.
For me, one of the lollipops on the disc is the engaging Sympathie Valse with its tremolando and energetic choppy chords with Viennese colouring. Wallace will have picked up the popularity of the Straussian style well before his visit to Vienna in 1847-8. The lilting Zephyr Nocturne contains delicate motifs of campanological filigree and scale ornamentation that here is nicely paced in Rosemary Tuck’s playing. The busy Woodland Murmurs Nocturne has elements of Pretty Gitana from Wallace’s opera, Maritana, finished a year later in 1845: we later hear a snippet from Maritana’s overture in Au Bord de la Mer written four years later. Another balletic piece is Le Chant des Oiseaux (The Song of the birds) where the birds are represented by scales in the top octaves of the piano. The lovely and passionate tune, full of yearning, with its haunting harmonics is deftly played by Tuck. I found the Valse Brillante highly representative of a typical virtuoso piece by Wallace where contrasting quiet sections alternate with forte ones. In a live concert performance watching the pianist’s gymnastics is sure to be riveting. To me, the choppy dissonant chords that punctuate two of the sections seem to be in search of an extra note in the last chord at the top of the keyboard. One just wonders if Wallace was writing for a shorter keyboard and ran out of notes.
When we come to Wallace’s travelling concert programmes his calling card seems always to have included the Polish titled Cracovienne. The piece was played to rave reviews in New Orleans with orchestral accompaniment, but the original band parts did not survive. It would have been liked for its simplistic yet dainty tune that undergoes a number of variations. The orchestrated version we hear has been specifically arranged for this disc by Jeremy Silver. Breezy sustained chords provide additional depth and subtlety that never masks the piano. His competent approach adds fresh body and substance to the piece and in the hands of Richard Bonynge as conductor enhances Rosemary Tuck’s excellent playing. I should have welcomed another item to have been similarly treated.
Phil Rowland’s recording is first class and the acoustic carries that bloom in which a good piano’s quality excels. A useful set of notes in English have been competently assembled by Wallace researcher and historian, Peter Jaggard. Succinctly written, the notes cover a broad spectrum of Wallace’s background and tell us that the composer was to make a comfortable living from his published sheet music. By 1851 his New York publisher (Wm Hall) was paying a generous sum of $100 for each piano piece offered.
  Raymond J Walker
Lightly balletic music sympathetically interpreted.