There are a number of premiere recordings on this disc, which should
be enticing news for established admirers of Alwyn as well as those who
have, in more recent years, come to appreciate the music of Doreen
Carwithen. She studied with Alwyn and many years later married him. The
central work is Alwyn’s Fantasy Waltzes. This set has been recorded
before and the prior examples of Sheila Randall’s pioneering LP now
transferred (Lyrita SRCD293
) and the more recent ones by John Ogdon (Chandos CHAN8399
) and Julian Milford (Chandos CHAN9825
) have signalled what an adventurous and enjoyable
achievement it is. Now it’s Mark Bebbington’s turn and he too
has a rewarding slant on the eleven waltzes, composed between 1954 and 1955.
They were dedicated to the short-lived Richard Farrell who premiered the set
in 1957, just a year before his death in a car crash.
If Ravel and Strauss come to mind as lode stars at certain salient
moments in the set, then one must also acknowledge Alwyn’s confidence
in presenting undiluted waltzes. That would, however, underestimate just how
much variety of mood and texture is to be found in the set. If Ogdon teases
the rubati in the capricious first waltz just a bit more than Bebbington
(and Milford), that’s to say no more than that each pianist finds his
own way with the eleven. Bebbington prefers a slightly more knockabout
approach to the second, for instance, whereas Ogdon’s rhythmic
vivacity is the more pronounced. Both however offer delicious results.
Bebbington enjoys the ‘false relations’ fourth waltz and really
vests it with the requisite grazioso
feel. The mysterious,
impressionist fifth, with some chording reminiscent of John Ireland, is more
mystic under Bebbington’s fingers than either Ogdon or Milford. He is
also quite emphatic at certain points, rhythmically speaking, in the
carnival festivity of the sixth whilst realising the almost Scriabinesque
inscrutability of No.7. The eighth has a deliciously teasing bite, and the
ninth - a quasi ballata
in Ogdon’s words - has rich sonorities
and an almost Rachmaninovian vehemence. Bebbington’s playing of the
set is altogether splendid, and can happily be admired independently from
that of his putative rivals.
He also plays the Sonata alla Toccata
of 1946, one of
Alwyn’s best-known piano works. It’s in three movements and is
compellingly played here. The maestoso
opening is excellently put
across with just the right mix of bravado and wit and more than a
soupçon of grandiose neo-classicism. The pealing toccata that’s
soon unleashed fuses refined lyricism in the semplice
the slow movement. The exciting correspondences of finale to opening
movement galvanise the music, resplendently. No wonder Ogdon was so inspired
by this work when he heard his teacher, Denis Matthews, playing it.
Bebbington should inspire too.
The other Alwyn works are all premiere recordings. Funeral Rites
for the Death of an Artist
(1931) is a sombre, tolling affair
contrasting with the almost Mayerl-like frolic of Bicycle Ride.
comes from a group of nine pieces he contributed in 1952 to a set called
Five by Ten. Piece for Piano
is an impressionistic affair from 1940.
The Weather Vane
dates to 1931 and is intended for children to
perform. There are five very brief little sketches, charming and brief and
not too difficult. Alwyn doesn’t forget to bring character to them,
despite their relative simplicities - there’s a nice waltz for The
for example, though it’s very, very different from
those Fantasy Waltzes
Another first-ever recording is Carwithen’s 1946 Sonatina.
This is rather Francophile with a well-upholstered and confident
neo-classicism in the air. The three movement Sonatina is lucidly laid out
and its heart is the spare, withdrawn, compellingly elliptical slow
movement. This leads on to the pealing vibrancy of a finale that has plenty
of brio and exuberant figuration. It’s all very exciting and would
make an excellent impression in recital. There’s no other performance
with which to compare Bebbington’s but there’s every sign that
he is wholly in command of the idiom, and I’d say that he sounds as if
he loves ever bar of it.
This terrific disc has been excellently recorded in Birmingham Town
Alwyn discography & review