Daniel JONES (1912-1993)
Bagatelles, Set I (1943-5) [14.31]
Bagatelles, Set II (1948-53) [8.31]
Bagatelles, Set III (1955) [8.05]
Two unpublished Bagatelles [3.37]
Béla BARTOK (1881-1945)
Fourteen Bagatelles (1908) [26.27]
Llŷr Williams (piano)
no recording details given
TY CERDD [unnumbered] [61.11]
This CD is the latest release from Tŷ Cerdd in their series of recordings of Welsh music, and includes the first complete recording of the Bagatelles for solo piano by Daniel Jones. It is also advertised as the first in a series of new releases issued by the Welsh Music Archive. Among plans for future releases one notes with pleasure the presence of John Metcalf’s operatic treatment of Under Milk Wood which I reviewed so enthusiastically for the Seen and Heard pages of this site a couple of months ago.
A complete disc of bagatelles, trifles which are intended to amuse rather than dig any deeper, might seem like lightweight fare; but both Bartók and Daniel Jones use the form to say something rather more serious. Bartók’s early set of Fourteen Bagatelles contain some quite substantial pieces in ternary form; initially they sound like explorations of the idioms of Hungarian folk music which Bartók was collecting at the time. Others show the composer exploring the crepuscular nocturnes which were later to form such a part of his armoury, and the twelfth of the set, simply entitled Rubato. It is a very serious piece indeed lasting over four minutes and almost constituting a complete movement suitable for a sonata. Llŷr Williams gives them their full due, and his playing in the more virtuosic items is faultless.
The first set of Daniel Jones’s Bagatelles are just that, simply pianistic trifles never more than three minutes in duration and a couple clocking in at under sixty seconds. In the second set we find the composer exploring further afield, experimenting with ideas and inspirations which reflect his growing maturity at the time. However there is a downside to this, as too many of the short movements seem simply to be sketches for more substantial pieces which are abandoned halfway through – sometimes with an attempt to provide a suitable coda, and sometimes not. The third set, on the other hand, are much more finished pieces, standing firmly on their own feet as works in their own right. The fifth of this set, headed Volante, has a real substance which belies its short duration. In this final set Jones allows himself to set the pianist more challenges in terms of virtuosity, and the results are compelling in Williams’s hands.
The disc concludes (after the Bartók) with two unpublished Bagatelles by Daniel Jones, about which we are given no information in the booklet – neither when they were written, nor why they remained unpublished. However from internal evidence they appear to be early works, possibly pre-dating the first set with which they have much in common harmonically and formally. These are probably the most conventional of all the Jones bagatelles on this disc, but they have a surface attractiveness and appeal which certainly indicates that they should not have simply been allowed to rest in the composer’s bottom drawer. Like all the Jones bagatelles on this disc, they are here receiving their first recording – and, I would imagine, possibly their first performance as well.
In his later years Daniel Jones moved on to more substantial works – including thirteen symphonies, many of which remain unavailable in commercial recordings and some of which at any rate do not deserve such neglect — broadcast relays can be found on the internet. Apart from The country beyond the stars, a real gem, none of his choral works have been issued on disc either, and this is a situation that demands remedy. Hopefully Tŷ Cerdd can in due course issue some of the BBC’s recordings of these works. In the meantime these Bagatelles make an excellent sampler of Jones’s earlier styles, showing the process of the composer evolving into a writer with a truly individual style and manner. One cannot imagine them being better performed than here. The recording — location not stated, but played I suspect on the Bosendorfer piano in the Tŷ Cerdd studio in the Wales Millennium Centre — has plenty of body and resonance.
Paul Corfield Godfrey