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An Irish Idyll
Archy ROSENTHAL (1874–1947)
Three Irish Pastels (1933)
Variations On A Nursery Rhyme: ‘Hush-A-Bye Baby, On The Tree-Top’ (1932)
‘Four Interludes (1932)
Maureen from Girl Portraits’: Four Sketches For Piano; Irish Jig (1926)
Barcarolle (1926)
The Four Seasons’: Short Suite Of Characteristic Pieces (1937)
Six Variations On An Old Nursery Rhyme: ‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’ (1926)
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852–1924)
Ballade in G Minor, op.170 (1919)
Nocturne in G Minor, op.148 no.1 (1917)
Arnold BAX (1883–1953)
Mountain Mood (1915)
Walter Koehler BECKETT (1914–1996)
Three Preludes (1942, rev. 1980)
Guilfoyle’s Wood (1926)
Duncan Honeybourne (piano)
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, 14-15 February 2014
world premiere recordings except Stanford and Bax
EM RECORDS EMRCD024 [78:16]

It is always good to listen to music from a golden compositional period that one never knew existed. Here, care has clearly been taken to consider and assemble the repertoire. Both Bax and Stanford are well known but Beckett and Rosenthal much less so. We are not told whether the ‘Irish Idyll’ title is related to any of the Stanford miniatures by that name (Op 77), though I suspect not. Three of the composers were born in the romantic period of classical composition.

Bax was a Londoner, born in Streatham into a wealthy family. He studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music under Matthay and Corder. His link with Ireland began through the study of W.B. Yeats’ poetry in 1902, which lit his imagination and provided him with a lasting warmth of heart to Celtic culture. As well as music, Bax wrote poetry and plays about the country and its people. The music here is gentle with the notes nicely figured by Honeybourne, a far cry from Bax’s stirring symphonic style.
 
Beckett, who grew up during the inter-war period, was a Dubliner whose family was deeply entrenched in the arts. He was related to playwright, Samuel Beckett, yet is largely forgotten today. He was associated with the Royal Irish Academy of Music for most of his life both as pupil and professor of harmony. The notes give no indication of his composing period but for this review the RIAM tell me that his Preludes were written in 1942 and revised by himself in 1980. His piano-composing period was mainly in the 1940s-50s. I was curious to find out something about Guilfoyle’s Wood but searched without success. Beckett’s music meanders and although containing good harmonic structure - as one would expect from a master of harmony - to me it is not inspired.
 
Rosenthal, another Dubliner, who knew composer Moeran, was born into a comfortably rich family. He left Ireland to travel as a virtuoso pianist/composer and did so with some success. He wrote pieces for the concerts in which he performed. Yet he never forgot his Irish roots, as the stamp of the three ‘Pastels’ is distinctly Irish. The Rosenthal’s nursery variations are quite clever and are not as simplistic as one might assume. In them there are many interesting turns of composition that are sure to please the ear. Among the variations the composer ingeniously manages to provide one in the style of a mazurka, even.

Of these composers, Stanford is the most learned, having first gone up to Cambridge and later, with his interest in academe, decided to stretch himself by spending three years in Leipzig and Berlin. A somewhat moody and bitter man he did not live to enjoy the true popularity awarded to his contemporaries: even before his death his music had faded from the concert hall, but not the church. Yet he wrote a considerable number of well-composed piano miniatures, elegant in their effect.

I like the lightness of touch of Honeybourne’s playing: there is nothing strident here. Many of the pieces carry the characteristics of ‘a salon lullaby’ and so the Rosenthal nursery variations fit nicely with the mood of the disc. The warmth of the playing is matched by a warm ambience that suits the music well. At times damper action is audible but this is not intrusive and does not detract from any enjoyment of the music. This is an ideal programme to provide atmosphere for an enjoyable dinner party.

The notes are provided in English and good photos are included of all composers but Beckett. For those curious about this little known composer his portrait is included with this review. It would have been helpful to provide the dates of composition if the opus numbers are not recorded.

Raymond J Walker