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Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
Rapsodia sinfónica (1931) [8:38]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphonic Variations (1885) [15:43]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1911-1915) [23:21]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
The maiden and the nightingale (1914-1916) [6:05]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La soirée dans Grenade (1903) [5:41]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV565 (arr. Ferruccio Busoni, 1900) [8:34]
Valerie Tryon (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
rec. 2-3 May 2012, Henry Wood Hall, London (Turina, Franck, Falla); encores (Granados; Debussy) 13 April 2003, National Gallery Of Art, Washington DC; 16 February 2000, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol (Bach-Busoni)
SOMM SOMMCD 250 [68:57]

It’s clear from his active Twitter feed that the conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods is a very busy man. When he’s not directing the Stratford-based Orchestra of the Swan he’s blogging, teaching and - at the time of writing - he was on his way back to the UK after a stint at the Scotia Festival. He and the OOTS impressed me greatly with their Mahler-Schoenberg collection (review) and, most recently, the last in their Gál/Schumann trilogy (review). This new venture with the RPO and pianist Valerie Tryon is just the start of a projected series for SOMM; Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, Strauss’s Burlesque and Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Theme should follow soon.
I’m not sure how much influence Woods has on these programmes but this new CD certainly reflects his penchant for unusual mixes. Most intriguing, though, is pianist Valerie Tryon, who is knew to me. Born in Portsmouth in 1934 and now resident in Canada she’s built up a slim but interesting portfolio of concert performances, recitals and recordings. Two of the pieces here - the Granados and Debussy - are encores from a live recital, and the Bach-Busoni was recorded back in 2000. In any event as a member of the Twitterati, I was minutes into this collection when I felt compelled to tweet my astonishment at such fine playing.
The disc opens with a strongly characterised and beautifully articulated reading of Turina’s Rapsodia sinfónica. I was struck by Tryon’s blend of delicacy and strength, of firm outlines and inner shadings. Age hasn’t blunted this septuagenarian’s dexterity or sense of line; indeed, there’s a youthful ease and spontaneity to her playing that’s utterly beguiling. Woods and the RPO are equally responsive, and the Iberian heat and colour of the piece are well projected. The sound is most agreeable - it’s warm and detailed - and the balance between soloist and orchestra is perfectly judged.
Whatever your view of Franck’s Symphonic Variations - Tovey’s description of it as a ‘freely organised rhapsody’ is entirely apt, especially in this delightful, freewheeling performance - it seldom fails to please. This is a reading of rare equilibrium - now inward, now extrovert - and it’s all bound together by an unforced, singing lyricism that’s just magical. The RPO are suitably emphatic and well-blended in the nicely scaled tuttis and Woods ensures momentum never flags. So, not a self-aggrandising or headline-grabbing performance, just an effortlessly musical one.
Tryon’s playing reminds me of an earlier generation of pianists - Moura Lympany among them - whose self-effacing style is so at odds with the breathless perfection of many young pianists today. It’s simple, unaffected and invariably rewarding. Falla’s sultry Nights in the Gardens of Spain has its share of fine interpreters - Alicia de Larrocha, for instance - but Tryon and Woods are persuasive too. There’s plenty of passion and point, and the work’s virtuosic passages hold no terrors for this pianist. Tryon’s phrasing and rhythms are idiomatic and it seems the brooding band is circling her in a mesmeric dance. Very entertaining indeed.
The maiden and the nightingale, from Book 1 of Granados’s Goyescas, is the first of two encores given at a recital in Washington DC a decade ago. Tryon is fluent and gently communicative, and her control of dynamics and shading is exemplary. As for the excerpt from Debussy’s Estampes she finds a charming lilt here - a suppleness of rhythm, if you will - that’s spellbinding. The piano sounds full and clear, and not at all compromised by being sited in a gallery rather than a concert hall. In both cases applause is warm but not overlong.
The Bach-Busoni Toccata and Fugue in D minor - recorded at St George’s, Bristol, in 2000 - is yet another example of Tryon’s nimble fingerwork and her ear for internal balances. The sound may be a little hard but one could argue that clarifies textures in what is essentially a carefully constructed coruscation of notes. Still, it’s another showstopper, and an ideal coda for a most rewarding collection. Having spent quite a bit of time with Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto recently I’m convinced this pianist’s songful and colouristic gifts will give us a reading to remember.
A real treat; Tryon’s easy and evocative talent augurs well for her upcoming discs.
Dan Morgan