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Echoes of Land and Sea
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Holiday Diary (1933-34) [15.25]
Early Morning Bathe [2.01]
Sailing [4.46]
Fun-Fair [2.47]
Night [5.31]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Brook Green Suite (transcr. Vally Lasker) (1933) [6.13]
Toccata [2.38]
Christmas Day in the Morning [2.23]
O! I Hae Seen the Roses Blaw [2.09]
The Shoemaker [0.52]
Nocturne [3.36] Jig [2.46].
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Ballade of London Nights (1930) [5.56]
Sea Fever (1913) transcribed freely by Roderick Williams * [3.33]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Six Studies (1969) [16.41]
Ronald STEVENSON (b.1928)
Peter Grimes Fantasy (1971) [7.42]
Roderick WILLIAMS (b. 1965)
Goodwood by the Sea * (2016) [3.31]
* first recordings
Maria Marchant (piano)
rec. 2017, Turner Sims, Southampton, UK
SOMM SOMMCD0174 [73.04]

This is a well-constructed programme of solo piano music that valuably includes the premiere recording of Holst’s Brook Green Suite in Vally Lasker’s transcription and two pieces by Roderick Williams; one an original composition and the other his free transcription of John Ireland’s Sea Fever.

Britten’s Holiday Diary seems to be receiving more recordings and concert performances of late. I last movements from it in a highlights disc from the Husum Festival. The nippy flurries of Early Morning Bathe are finely projected by Maria Marchant, who ensures that the Sailing movement is by no means plain, though after the squalls one returns to its elysian introduction. The big contrast between the showy Fun-Fair and the subdued Night could hardly be more potent. Ronald Stevenson tended to be more-than-somewhat dismissive of the solo piano writing of some senior British composers. His Peter Grimes Fantasy, which follows with inexorable programmatic logic, is a fugue on two subjects and Britten approved of it according to the paragraph in the booklet that preserves Stevenson’s own introduction to the piece. It’s driving, powerful music, idiomatically laid out, as one would expect of the prolific executant-composer. Maria Marchant’s metronome is set to ‘action’ when it comes to John Ireland’s Ballade of London Nights, which she takes at a real lick - the fastest recording of it yet to be set down, I think. If I happen to prefer the more insinuating tempi of, say, John Lenehan, Alan Rowlands and Eric Parkin, it’s certainly bracing to hear Marchant’s take, if only the once.

Roderick Williams’s Sea Fever transcription opens like Rachmaninov and is vividly accomplished, whilst his own Goodwood by the Sea fits the programme delightfully: richly coloured, rhythmically vivid, wholly delightful. Kenneth Leighton’s Six Studies are knottier by far, a sequence of so called ‘Study-Variations’, composed in 1969. The colour and astringency of the writing is always exciting, the ‘e secco’ instruction fully realised here in the second study, and the way that economy of means develops gravity in the Adagio a particularly revealing example of Leighton’s skill. The garrulous quality of the capricious fourth movement and the dramatic energy of the finale study reinforce the rewarding merits of this brief but intense cycle. Holst’s solo piano music aspires to little more than charm, though the folklorically inflected Toccata is thoroughly engaging: the Brook Green Suite is similarly effortlessly charming and Lasker’s transcription - she was his assistant and ex-pupil – is fresh-faced and effective.

It ends a well selected work list that will reward close listening. Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes are very readable, though he has to strain to make connections between the works from time to time. Fine recording quality.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Ian Lace



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