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Martin Jones - 75th Birthday Tribute
rec. 1973-2014
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 1718 [4 CDs: 311:00]

Martin Jones as a recording artist has been part of my listening experience for almost as long as I’ve been collecting LPs and CDs. Seeing his distinguished and still active career celebrated by Nimbus Records in this way is a true delight.

This 4 CD set presents a well-planned programme of recordings from the early days of Nimbus to some of their most recent releases. While in some ways it is a ‘sampler’ of Martin Jones’s remarkable work each disc is a very satisfying listen in its own right. At over 40 pages the booklet is also a highly worthwhile document, including every detail you could want about the recordings, plenty of background on each composer and their work, and a text full of affectionate anecdotes about the artist himself.

One of the main pleasures one can have as a music collector is the finding of true bargains, and it was the likes of the Nimbus box set of Brahms’ complete piano music from 1992 on 6 CDs (NI 1788) which have remained unmissable staples of my own and no doubt many others’ libraries. I can’t remember how much it cost, but back in 1992 it would have to have been very affordable as far as I was concerned. I remember those sets being very inexpensive indeed for what they are. The Brahms recordings were made when Nimbus was using its Ambisonic UHJ encoded techniques, so the piano sound is a little more distant than you would expect from their conventional stereo recordings today. The piano is more a part of the acoustic and I actually rather like the effect, though comparison with more recent work such as the piano music of Óscar Esplá (review) shows where gains are to be made in terms of bass depth and more intimate detail. Every stage of the Nimbus ‘sound’ is represented here, from recordings made at the old Birmingham Handsworth Road studio to the Ballroom at Wyastone Leys in numerous varieties of balance. The discs for this set are by the way all marked as being Ambisonic UHJ encoded.

While this collection quite rightly focuses on Jones’s recordings as a soloist he also proved himself a distinguished chamber musician and accompanist. I’ve still hung onto my old LP of his duo with cellist Christian Hocks - with the Frank Bridge Sonata on side two to Hocks’s Kodály Solo Cello Sonata on side 1 (NIMBUS 2117). I’m not sure how many of these kinds of recording Nimbus has lurking in its vaults, but I’m sure there is an argument to be made for creating opportunities to download them, even if physical releases were to be deemed likely to be financial loss-makers. Part of these 75th birthday celebrations will be a video library of performances available online, so there will be more content as time goes on. Jones also pops up on ensemble recordings such as a very fine Crown of the Year by Michael Tippett (review), another disc which also appeared in a superb Tippett box set, NI 1759. Nimbus’s Music Director Adrian Farmer writes affectionately about Martin Jones’s all-round contribution to the label’s activities, including helping select instruments, playing for microphone trials and working out the acoustic properties of the Wyastone Leys concert hall. “Martin has been witness to every step of Nimbus’s progress, and continues to be there to lend his support. This box set is our way of celebrating a major birthday, and an enduring friendship.”

Carl Czerny may not seem an auspicious start to those of us who have had to practise his rather plain-sounding studies, but the first movement of the Sonata in B minor, op.145 is full of drama and surprises, and Jones brings out the grandeur and good humour in the music. The Mendelssohn recordings are amongst the earlier ones Jones made for Nimbus, and though there is plenty of warmth and expressiveness in both of these performances there is also an underlying liveliness which prevents them becoming chocolate-box amusements. The Brahms recordings as mentioned are a little distant sounding, but these are sparkling performances and Martin Jones is not a name you associate with anything remotely ‘dud’. The Lyadov (or Liadov) Barcarolle comes from a recital of ‘Virtuoso Showpieces’ (NI 5326) but is no barnstormer as its title would suggest, although it does reach some quite magnificent climaxes. Jones has made considerable forays into Spanish music, and his Albéniz is exemplary in its rhythmic verve and variety of touch and weight. The clutch of Debussy Etudes are in part real demonstrations of Jones’s virtuosity and enduring musicality under even the severest of technical demands, and are also examples of how he can bring out the unmistakeable essence of the composer. CD 1 ends with the Rachmaninoff Variations on a theme of Corelli, which takes us all the way back to 1973 in terms of recording vintage. These older recordings sound very good indeed, with only a modicum of tape hiss audible at high volume in soft passages.

I’ve already started cherry-picking highlights but it’s hard to resist commenting on every track in this fine collection. CD 2 begins with a blistering but also reflective account of Granados’s Allegro de concierto. Esplá we have already mentioned, but it’s good to note that the programming as much as possible avoids too many fragmentary movements of works, and the complete Lírica Española I is as good an introduction to this composer’s excellent music is it is to Jones’s equally excellent performances. Ernesto Halffter may be another less familiar name, but certainly one to be reckoned with in the dark moods of his Recordando a Chopin. The collection of piano works by Joaquín Nin has been covered on this site, the Cadena de valses presented here very much encouraging further exploration. Mompou is a composer who demands both focus and the deepest kind of poetry and this is exactly the kind of playing given to him by Jones. Turina’s impressive En la torre del Castillo as is Manuel de Falla’s intense Fantasia Baetica can be found in another big box of Spanish piano music, while the piano music of Carlos Guastavino has been a pleasure to have around since I reviewed it in 2008.

CD 3 begins with some rich romanticism in Jean Roger-Ducasse’s Barcarolle No. 2, contrasting with impressionism and fireworks from Szymanowski in his Masques Op. 4. This leads nicely to an introduction of the 2 CD Stravinsky set on NI 5519/20, which is very good indeed and has some real show-stoppers, but the Sérénade en La is quite a subtle work which Jones plays with an inquisitive ear for its different sonorities, from the harmonic inflections of the Hymn to the cimbalom colour of the Cadenza Finale. A selection of Preludes from Hans Gál demonstrates that there is more to mid-20th Germanic music than just Hindemith, and while there are lighter sides here it is Korngold whose early Vier kleine fröliche Waltzer draw on the shameless salon elegance of the ballroom. The two Gershwin numbers are a great success, with I Got Rhythm both subtle and rip-roaring at the same time. Alun Hoddinott’s compact Third Piano Sonata is a tougher nut to crack, but its placement here can be accounted for in its theatricality of gesture, with drama at a high enough pitch to give it claims of being cinematic. Two pianos complete this disc with some classic Percy Grainger in rustic and rousing mood, while the opening of CD 4 from the same source is a remarkable improvisatory ‘ramble on the last love duet’ of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier with jazzy notes thrown in as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

A further invitation to explore Franz Reizenstein is thrown down in works both entertaining and highly stimulating to your intellectual side – those Preludes and Fugues are certainly going on my wish-list, while the Variations are the sort of 1950s melting-pot of styles which could almost have graced a Hoffnung concert. The Jean Françaix pieces come from another superb 3 CD set, the sheer variety in which is nicely illustrated here. Adrian Farmer is also to be heard in the piano duet Portraits. The final two works see Martin Jones joined by orchestras, with first the English String Orchestra conducted by William Boughton in Gerald Finzi’s lovely Eclogue which is given a very refined performance. Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is the one with that most tender of Andante slow movements. Russian character isn’t perhaps the English Symphony Orchestra’s strongest point, but all of the youthful joy in this work is present and correct and it’s nice to have the complete work topped by the élan of our hero to round off this tremendous collection – a very fine tribute indeed to one of our most valued musicians.

Dominy Clements

See text links for reviews of individual releases.

Track-List

CD 1 [77.34]
Carl Czerny
Sonata in B minor, op.145, Allegro con brio [8.50]
Romance, Op.755 no.13 [2.45]
Felix Mendelssohn
Three Caprices, op.33 no.1 [7.20]
Songs Without Words, Book 1, op.19 No.1 in E major Andante con moto [2.48]
Johannes Brahms
Study no.2 [4.30]
Intermezzo, op.76 no.3. Grazioso [2.51]
Hungarian Dance, no.10, Presto [2.09]
Anatoly Konstantinovich Lyadov
Barcarolle in F-sharp [4.09]
Isaac Albéniz
Iberia Book 2: I Rondeña [6.54]
Claude Debussy
Etudes 2e Livre
VII pour les Degrés chromatiques [2.11]
VIII pour les Agréments [5.20]
IX pour les Notes répétées [3.24]
Giuseppe Ferrata
Study II on Chopin’s Valse, op.64 no.1 [2.12]
Ferruccio Busoni
Frohsinn (Gaiety) [2.57]
Leopold Godowsky
Richard Strauss – Ständchen (Serenade) [2.38]
Serge Rachmaninoff
Variations on a theme of Corelli, op.42 [16.34]

CD 2 [77.05]
Enrique Granados
Allegro de concierto [7.23]
Óscar Esplá
Lírica Española I Bocetos Levantinos
I Evocatión costeña [1.51]
II Danza del Valle [2.25]
III Canción de cuna [2.01]
IV Paso de baile serrano [1.26]
V Canto de la Umbria [2.43]
VI Ritmos de la huerta [2.08]
Ernesto Halffter
Sonata, Homenaje a Domenico Scarlatti [5.39]
Nocturno otoñal, Recordando a Chopin [3.45]
Joaquín Nin
Cadena de valses - Evocation romantique [9.43]
Federico Mompou
Cants Mágics [10.30]
I Energic [1.34]
II Obscur [1.56]
III Profond – lent [2.46]
IV Misteriós [2.15]
V Calma [2.00]
Joaquin Turina
Sanlucar de Barrameda, Sonata pintoresca, op.24
I En la torre del Castillo [6.39]
Carlos Guastavino
Sonatina [7.59]
I Allegretto [2.55]
II Lento muy expresivo [2.51]
III Presto [2.16]
Manuel de Falla
Fantasia Bætica [12.48]

CD 3 [79.16]
Jean Roger-Ducasse
Barcarolle no.2 [8.55]
Karol Szymanowski
Masques, op. 4
I Schererzade [8.39]
II Tantris le Bouffon [6.35]
Igor Stravinsky
Sérénade en La [12.20]
I Hymne [3.44]
II Romanza [3.18]
III Rondoletto [2.42]
IV Cadenza Finale [2.35]
Hans Gál
24 Preludes, op.83
VIII Allegro pesante [1.46]
IX Vivace [1.33]
X Grave [3.03]
XI Andante grazioso e scherzando [1.43]
XII Con moto [2.10]
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Vier kleine fröhliche Waltzer [12.10]
Gretl, Grazioso [3.04]
Margit, Espressivo [3.31]
Gisi [2.53]
Mitzi [2.41]
George Gershwin/Earl Wild
Seven études on song melodies
‘Somebody Loves Me’ [3.03]
‘I Got Rhythm’ [2.17]
Alun Hoddinott
Piano Sonata no.3, op.40 [7.50]
Percy Grainger
Children’s March [7.11]
(with Richard McMahon- 2 pianos)

CD 4 [76.47]
Percy Grainger/Richard Strauss
Der Rosenkavalier,
Ramble on the last love duet [8.18]
Franz Reizenstein
Twelve Preludes & Fugues, op.32
VIII in D Prelude Allegro moderato [2.41]
Fugue a 3 voci L’istesso tempo
IX in B-flat Prelude Andante maestoso [6.09]
Fugue a 4 voci Moderato
Franz Reizenstein
Variations on ‘The Lambeth Walk’ [13.35]
Jean Françaix
Eloge de la danse
Six épigraphes de Paul Valéry [11.22]
I ...Elle semble d’abord… [2.07]
II ...Elle était l’amour… [1.31]
III ...Elle trace des roses… [1.26]
IV ...Elle a fait tout son corps… [1.12]
V Elle célébrait tous les mystères… [1.35]
VI Voici la choeur ailé des illustres… [3.33]
Jean Françaix
portraits d’enfants d’Auguste Renoir
X La petite pêcheuse [0.29]
XI Mademoiselle Grimprel au ruban bleu [0.57]
XII Au piano [0.31]
XIII Filette au chapeau a plume rose [1.29]
XIV Les enfants de Madame Charpentier [1.22]
XV Le petit collegian [0.56]
with Adrian Farmer (piano duet)
Gerald Finzi
Eclogue for piano and string orchestra [9.56]
ESO conducted by William Boughton
Dmitri Shostakovich
Piano Concerto no.2, op.102 [18.53]
I Allegro [7.41]
II Andante [5.09]
III Allegro [6.09]
ESO conducted by William Boughton

 

 




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