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Billy MAYERL (1902-1959)
Piano Music - Volume 2
Insect Oddities (1940) [12.01]: Wedding of an Ant; Ladybird Lullaby; Praying Mantis; Beetle in a Bottle.
White Heather (1932) [5.30]
Nimble-fingered Gentleman (1938) [5.21]
Song of the Fir-tree (1938) [3.45]
Jasmine (1927) [6.09]
The Big Top Suite – Five Circus Sketches (1948) [15.20]: Ringmaster; Clowning; Entrance of the Trick Cyclists; Dancing Horse; Trapeze.
Pianolettes (Book 2) (1925) [11.42]: Virginia Creeper; All-of-a-Twist; The Jazz Mistress.
Three Japanese Pictures (1930) [8.37]: Almond Blossom; A Temple in Kyoto; The Cherry Dance.
Three Syncopate Rambles (1933) [10.17]: The Junior Apprentice; Printer’s Devil; Milkman 6.00 am.
Philip Martin (piano)
rec. Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, 2014

This is the second in Somm’s Billy Mayerl series with pianist Philip Martin. My colleague Jonathan Woolf reviewed Volume 1 on SOMMCD 0124 with mixed feelings. He thought that “… Martin is more interested in pointing up Mayerl’s harmonic writing, and that he is intent on pursuing the more veiled impressionism that does indeed lie at the heart of some of Mayerl’s music - that and Gershwin and Rachmaninovian impulses ... he is resistant to overstate Mayerl as the galvanic syncopator.”

I must say listening to this newly released second volume that I agree very much with Jonathan’s assessment although Martin’s ‘more relaxed, careful’ Mayerl sometimes is very appealing. For instance his take on White Heather is quite haunting. Interesting that its date of composition fell in 1932. That locates it between the two complex-harmony-filled yet so satisfying-to-the ear suites, Three Japanese Pictures and Three Syncopated Rambles of 1930 and 1933 respectively. Of these the lovely, reflective (in Martin’s fingers) Almond Blossom is especially appealing and so too is the sentimentality of Printer’s Devil in the other suite. It is interesting to note the wide differences in timings between the readings of Martin and Eric Parkin on Chandos CHAN8560 and CHAN10324(3 )X. Parkin’s Almond Blossom is only 2.05 and his Nimble-fingered Gentleman (in character very much like White Heather) just 3.18 shaving off 1.05 and 2.03 respectively.

The whole collection embraces Mayerl compositions from the 1925 Pianolettes to the Circus Sketches of 1948. The Pianolettes, designed to show off a pianist’s virtuosity, were overtly appealing with syncopations and jazz harmonies to the fore; perhaps a case of Scot Joplin meeting Gershwin ... especially in 'All of a Twist'. Notes-writer Robert Matthew-Walker thinks Gershwin and Poulenc are probable influences in ‘The Ringmaster’, the first of the Circus Sketches which are all impressive: intriguing and imaginatively complex compositions.

One early composition I must mention is Jasmine (1927). Again Martin lingers but I do not mind because this flower is so bewitching. The Gershwin influence is very marked. Indeed as Matthew-Walker suggests there seems to be an allusion to a phrase from Lady be Good - The Half of it Dearie blues.

Equally engaging are the Insect Oddities, the only Mayerl composition delivered during World War II. The Ladybird is all gentle fluttering elegance while the Praying Mantis might have been a bit of a lad swinging along in his flamboyant debonair manner entrapping the ladies?

Hardly wayward Mayerl, nevertheless often very satisfying.

Ian Lace


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