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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Preludes Op.23; No.6 in E flat major [2:39]: No.10 in G flat major [3:33]: No.9 in E flat major: No.4 in D major [4:28]: No.5 in G minor [4:02]: No.1 in F sharp minor [2:59]: No.2 in B flat major [4:06]
Preludes Op.32; No.1 in C major [1:18]: No.25 in G major [3:10]: No.12 in G sharp minor [2:27]: No.3 in E major [2:40]: No.10 in B minor [5:52]: No.4 in E minor [5:41]: No.13 in D flat major [5:17]
Transcriptions: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Mendelssohn) [4:29]: Lilacs Op.21 No.5 (Rachmaninov) [2:26]: Lullaby Op.54 No.16 (Tchaikovsky) [4:37]: Flight of the Bumble Bee - Tsar Saltan (Rimsky-Korsakov) [1:15]: Gopak - Sorotchinski Fair (Mussorgsky) [1:55]: Minuet - L’Arlesienne Suite No.1) (Bizet) [3:24]: Wohin? - Die schöne Müllerin (Schubert) [3:14]: Liebeslied (Kreisler) [4:27]
Colin Horsley (piano)
rec. c.1954 and 1959? London
ATOLL ACD 442 [76:00]

Lovers of British music in particular have real reason to be grateful to the memory of New Zealand-born Colin Horsley (1920-2012), who spent most of his life in Britain, where he journeyed in 1936 to study at the Royal College of Music with Herbert Fryer and Angus Morrison. Later he took lessons with Tobias Matthay and worked with one of that pedagogue’s best pupils, Irene Scharrer.
Horsley is remembered for a number of associations. He recorded John Ireland’s Concerto with Basil Cameron [EMI Classics 7 64716 2], which stands worthily alongside recordings by Eileen Joyce and Eric Parkin as one of the most devoted of Ireland’s concerto performances on disc. He was part of a trio with Dennis Brain and Manoug Parikian, and fortunately transfers of their recordings of Berkeley’s Trio can be found; so too can Horsley’s performance with the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble of Mozart’s Quintet in E flat (if you collect Brain’s music, look no further for both than the inexpensive ‘Icon’ box 2 06010 2). Horsley premiered Medtner’s Piano Quintet, though no evidence of his Medtner on disc seems to have survived.
Horsley also formed a sonata duo with violinist Max Rostal. I’ve never been wholly impressed by all their recordings, but that’s largely because I’m not always persuaded by Rostal. But certainly a number are well worth hearing; Symposium issued a raft of them over the years.
Though he also performed Searle and Rawsthorne - is there a surviving tape of Horsley and Beecham performing Rawsthorne’s Second Concerto? - he’s perhaps above all associated with the music of Lennox Berkeley, who wrote two concertos for him as well as smaller pieces. To get to grips with Horsley’s immensely understanding way with Berkeley’s music you will need to hear Lyrita REAM.2109 which contains the A major Sonata, the Six Preludes, Op.23, three of the four Concert Studies, Op.14 and other smaller pieces. This is core Horsley. Though just to complicate matters, he had earlier recorded the Six Preludes for HMV in 1949.
In addition to such British music, Horsley retained an interest in a wide range of the repertoire. At the start of his career, his solo concerto debut had been in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, and it’s this composer who is the focus of the CD. It derives from two LPs, one of which was recorded in 1954, though HMV CLP1268 - which contains a sequence of Op.32 Preludes and transcriptions - seems to have been issued long after the companion (in 1959?). It’s certainly possible, indeed probable, that it was recorded after the companion. That disc, CLP1048, also contained Franck’s Prélude, Aria et Finale.
Horsley was an excellent technician and had good instincts for the music. In the core repertoire, it was probably Rachmaninov with whom he was most linked. He had made a 78 of a Rachmaninov Prelude on 78s and he continued to perform the solo works and the concertos. He seems to have got on well with Beecham, with whom he gave at least one performance of the Paganini Rhapsody - not the most obvious repertoire for the peppery baronet. True, Horsley lacks Moiseiwitsch’s sense of colour and tensile control in Op.32 No.12, and Ashkenazy’s spacious gravity in the D-flat major (No.13), in 1974, possesses more magisterial control. It’s a shame that HMV didn’t have the courage to record all the two sets of Preludes but we must be grateful for what they did set down. In the selections from Op.23 - as with the Op.32 set, he recorded seven of them - one finds he misses something of Earl Wild’s wit in No.9. He also lacks the sense of purposeful development in No.10, where Horsley tends to be a bit discursive. He makes no attempt to replicate Rachmaninov’s rubati in the Liebeslied transcription but plays the slower pieces with fluency and poetry. He’s hardly alone in failing to match the iridescent beauty of Moiseiwitsch’s Lilacs and the famous Mendelssohn Scherzo recording. CLP1268 seems to have been recorded rather bass-shy, but the transfers are perfectly acceptable and the notes helpful.
Surely the BBC has archive Horsley performances up its sleeve? I appreciate its main market is international, promoting the phalanx of important soloists who visited London in the 1950s and 1960s and beyond but good musicianship, allied to interesting repertoire has a cachet, some may argue, beyond the endless regurgitation of standard repertoire by familiar starry soloists.
Jonathan Woolf