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Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
The complete piano music & works by his English and Irish contemporaries
see end of review for details
Duncan Honeybourne (piano)
rec. 27-28 December 2012, Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton
EM RECORDS EMR CD012-013 [76:19 + 78:40]

According to the comprehensive booklet notes that accompany this disc, Moeran himself held his piano music in little regard. I must admit that I have also found this wonderful composer’s piano output less striking and personal than his superb chamber and orchestral works. This absorbing two CD set is therefore especially valuable and it has two points strongly in its favour; firstly the persuasive advocacy of Duncan Honeybourne - who clearly loves this music); and secondly the placing of Moeran’s piano works within the broader context of the English and Irish keyboard writing of the time. The results are illuminating and have certainly led me to rethink my attitude to this neglected music.
The principal rival in this repertoire is Eric Parkin, who recorded a splendidly played Lyrita disc in the early seventies with a selection of Moeran works (now reissued with pieces by William Baines). He then created a new CD of Moeran works in the mid nineties (on the J. Martin Stafford label: JMSCD2), but the later release, although having the advantage of tucking all the piano works onto a single disc, was marginally less successful in terms of performance.
Duncan Honeybourne’s speeds tend to be a touch slower than Eric Parkin’s. This heightens the dreamy atmosphere of many of these pieces to great effect. The performance of “Stalham River” is a notable success and Honeybourne is also excellent in the poetic Delius-like musings of “Summer Valley”. The latter is beautifully played and preferable to Parkin’s rather wooden account on his later Stafford disc. The “Toccata” is less hectic than the two Parkin renditions and Honeybourne manages to find the melancholy lurking behind the notes. The “Three Fancies” are amongst the best known of Moeran’s keyboard works and Honeybourne’s performance does full justice to these attractive miniatures.
Moeran’s “Two Legends” are perhaps his most impressive piano music. Parkin (Lyrita) has a slight edge here, as his performance is a touch more dramatic, with climaxes more sharply etched. Parkin (again on Lyrita) is also marginally preferable in the well-known “Bank Holiday”, his direct approach generating plenty of excitement. Otherwise, Honeybourne is in a class of his own, and his account of the “Theme and Variations” (Moeran’s most substantial piano work) is unsurpassed on disc.
I would rate this new two CD set as the best complete recording of Moeran’s piano output.
William Baines could be described as the John Keats of English piano music. Short-lived, intensely poetic and precociously brilliant, he arguably achieved more by the age of twenty-three than any other British composer. Perhaps his only rival in this respect is another Yorkshireman, Kenneth Leighton. His “Seven Preludes” are a masterly achievement and it is astonishing that Baines completed them at the age of nineteen. They are given a gorgeous performance here. Eric Parkin (Lyrita) is more dramatic in the Fourth Prelude but Honeybourne has the advantage in the moving Third and Fifth Preludes. Both performances are essential listening. I would really like to hear Duncan Honeybourne play a complete Baines disc, as there is so much of this magnificent composer’s music that lies buried - how about one or two of his Piano Sonatas? While we are on the subject of Baines, when will we get to hear a professionally played recording of his Symphony, which the distinguished critic Peter J. Pirie rated so highly?
I loved the “Prelude, Minuet and Reel” by Thomas Pitfield. I had heard of this composer but this is the first time I have had the fortune to encounter his music. What a find! The performance of this delicious work is beyond praise; a truly sparkling rendition. The Vaughan Williams pieces are better known and are played beautifully here, particularly “The Lake in the Mountains”. Herbert Howells’ late Sonatina is more abrasive in idiom than the other pieces; Honeybourne gets to the heart of this elusive piece in a very well-judged reading. Howells is also represented by his “The “Chosen” Tune”, which is extremely moving as performed here. The Ronald Swaffield pieces are charmingly old-fashioned; his “Intermezzo alla Pastorale”, here receiving its debut on disc, is distinctly Brahmsian. Another work receiving its premiere recording is the Aloys Fleischmann Suite for Piano, which is notably distinctive and individual in style. Lyrical ideas are successfully balanced with slightly harder-edged material to make this a fine introduction to Fleischmann’s output.
This disc is very well recorded and, as usual with EM Records, has excellent documentation. Lovers of British music and indeed lovers of piano music generally will want to have this CD.
David Jennings

Review Index: EJ Moeran 

Track listing
Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)
Stalham River (1921) [6:26]
Theme and Variations (1920) [14:18]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Sonatina for Piano (1971) [13:33]
Two Folksong Arrangements (1926-1927) [7:42]
Aloys FLEISCHMANN (1910-1992)
Sreath do Phiano (Suite for Piano) (1933) [11:50]
Ronald SWAFFIELD (1889-1962)
Rapallo [4:05]
Sailing Along [2:06]
Intermezzo alla Pastorale [3:14]
Two Legends (1923) [11:22]
The “Chosen” Tune (1920) [1:43]
Three Piano Pieces (1919) [13:28]
On a May Morning (1921) [3:55]
Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999)
Prelude, Minuet and Reel (1931) [7:35]
Three Fancies (1922) [9:38]
William BAINES (1899-1922)
Seven Preludes (1919) [14:46]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Hymn Tune Prelude on ‘Song 13’ (Gibbons) (1928) [3:00]
The Lake in the Mountains (1947) [3:55]
Toccata (1921) [5:49]
Summer Valley (1925) [7:05]
Bank Holiday (1925) [2:33]
Two Pieces (1933) [6:56]