MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around

 58,771 reviews
   and more ... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here
Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Bourne HMV 6037NNNN
Support us financially by purchasing from

Una Bourne (piano)
Australian Recording Pioneer: HMV Recordings
rec. 1914-1926
APR 6037 [2 CDs: 155]

Some 45 years ago, near the start of my collecting, a passion that was leading me towards historical piano recordings and obscure romantic repertoire, a list of Una Bourne's recordings caught my attention and I wanted to hear this pianist who recorded Scharwenka and Scott, Paderewski and Palmgren, Sgambati and Smetana. It has taken nearly half a century and the endeavour and hard work of Mike Spring at APR Recordings but here it is, a magnificent twofer bringing together 58 of the 74 solo piano pieces that she recorded – there are a further 16 individual works, 13 duplicates and 5 Violin Sonatas, recorded with Marjorie Howard, to make up the 92 titles listed on APR's excellent Catalogue of 78rpm recordings of classical pianists (check the website out for this wonderful resource).

Una Mabel Bourne was born in 1882 in New South Wales but moved to Melbourne when she was a child. Lessons with her sister led to her début as a six year old and great things were foreseen for her when she won a competition aged eleven playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. A Polish born teacher, Benno Schreck helped her further and she began to make a name for herself locally. Travelling to Europe with her sister gave her the opportunity to hear many great artists and more importantly to perform at the Bechstein Hall in London before heading back to Australia. In her homeland she became a part of Dame Nellie Melba's tour at the singer's invitation, an association that continued for many years and continents. She divided her time between Australia and in Europe where she met and performed with many other artists including Lionel Tertis with whom she performed and Leopold Godowsky who offered her lessons – amazingly it was an offer she turned down. She toured extensively but in 1939 she returned to Australia for good, living there with her long time companion Mona McCaughey, the artist who shared the stage with her at her first London appearance and giving benefit concerts and broadcasts (if only one of those would turn up...). She died in a suburb of Melbourne in 1974.

Bourne's recording career was relatively short, beginning in 1914 with Chaminade and her own compositions and ending in 1926 with more Chaminade alongside Scharwenka and Paderewski. It is difficult to assess the critical acclaim of her recordings but little remained available by 1930; perhaps it was the nature of the music she recorded, a music that was, even then slowly going out of fashion only to find its place again relatively recently. Like many artists in the 78rpm era short side lengths equated to short works; longer works had to be split over several sides or worse, dramatically truncated. Though she played Beethoven Sonatas and longer works by Bach and Schumann in concert she was evidently very comfortable with short character works and doubtless they would have been perfect fare for her solo spots in Melba's concerts. Salon music has always had its critics, even at the height of its popularity though listening here it can be difficult to say discern what is salon music and what is character music; Chaminade's Etudes or Les Sylvains are every bit as idiomatic and striking as Grieg's Lyric pieces and I don't think anyone considers Grieg as salon music. Similarly I find Paderewski's piano works, including the two fine examples recorded here to be better music than one finds in Grieg's Piano Sonata and it is even harder to decry this genre when you hear Bourne's superbly convincing recording of Sydney Smith's Le Jet d'eau, a piece that hardly scales artistic heights.

I say superbly convincing and I find that the majority here fits that description with the small caveat that Bourne favours fast tempi that don't always gel with the essence of the music. If we skim though the disc in this regard there is a very brisk Rondo alla Turca, not all that unusual perhaps but hardly the allegretto that is marked. In Wagner/Liszt she rushes; the spinning-wheels would have charred if they turned this fast and the guests entering the Wartburg in the Tannhäuser extract must have been running in with robes in disarray, like priests jostling for the best seats in some surreal Dave Allen sketch. Having just reviewed Mariam Batsashvili's glorious disc Romantic Piano Masters (Warner Classics 9029629061) where she takes 7:18 for her Liebestod I assumed Bourne's version was abridged when I saw the 4:03 duration – but no, Bourne does play it in that short time. Last but not least mention must be made of Grieg's Papillons...or is it a bird? Is it a plane? Any butterfly flying this fast would probably lose its wings. All that said however they are still played well and the delights on this set far outweigh these interpretative mishaps.

There's a large Scandinavian selection, predominantly Grieg but extending into familiar and unfamiliar territory. Her Grieg includes the first complete recording, but for a few bars in the finale, of his Piano Sonata in E minor. I find this is a little awkwardly written but Bourne makes a fine job of its blocky chords and many changes of mood; I particularly like the Menuet which is more dance-like than the version that Grieg himself recorded in 1903. She is as happy in the Lyric pieces, matching Grieg's own brisk tempo in Wedding day at Troldhaugen and To spring and, if the elves' dancing in Op 12 No 4 is rather frenetic there is no denying the frisson of Norsk or the sparkling characterisation of Little bird. The folky rambunctiouness of Norsk is echoed in the high-stepping, quick-fingered mazurka by Ole Olsen, one of three short pieces by this very neglected Norwegian. The other two are a fast waltzing Humoresque with some interesting turns of harmony and a gently flowing and quite touching Cradle song. Selim Palmgren is becoming a little better known nowadays but it is still nice to hear three short movements from his Finnish Rhythms; Benno Moiseiwitsch found the West Finnish dance that he recorded in 1940 in this collection and Bourne plays the Karelian dance, Minuet and Minuet-Valse and adding the nocturnal Evening whispers with its hints of impressionism and evocation of bells. A sure-footed Rustle of Spring completes this northern group. Travelling south there are pieces by Cyril Scott; characteristically Bourne laps up his Impromptu Op 41, all joviality and cascades of notes. In the first of the Op 58 waltzes she plays to the scherzando marking, blithely ignoring the allegretto tempo but she captures its impish nature as she does in the two movements from Summerland and the skittish, strutting Water Wagtail. Across the channel to France and several pieces by a composer-pianist who taught Bourne for short period, Cécile Chaminade; her music features strongly in Bourne's discography. In total she recorded 15 pieces, five of them more than once and this is music that she certainly has an affinity for. By now it is clear that she has the fingers for its technical demands but it is singing tone and sense of line that impresses as much in pieces such as les Sylvains – a highlight of the disc for me – or the etude Fileuse and its famous companion Automne. Bourne's own compositions are slight but pleasant; her finger-twisting petite valse caprice is a fun bit of fluff that displays her technical prowess and the caprice is a hearty shanty-like piece with an interestingly textured lyrical middle section where the tune appears effortlessly in all ranges of the piano – both made engaging calling cards for her first recording sessions. For her last sessions she played her attractive nocturne and marche grotesque with its gruff rough and tumble. Her Spanish selection is interesting in that alongside two old favourites sit two rarities, the six Cuban dances by Cuban composer Ignacio Cervantes and Granados' hot bloodied minuet Moresque, a work that Bourne recorded twice (this is the first recording from 1923). Cervantes studied with Gottschalk and in Paris with Marmontel and Alkan; he was instrumental in developing Cuban music and wrote 47 of these suave, syncopated Cuban dances in total.

There are plenty of other joys here; a small Tchaikovsky group that includes a beautiful if faster than normal June barcarolle, a relatively restrained Troika and a wonderfully fluent Waltz from his Op 40 pieces. Sgambati's Etude is effervescent under Bourne's fingers and the Scharwenka Polish dance, once a familiar encore is given probably the most satisfying performance I have heard. Charm sparkles through Smetana's Polka and it is refreshing to hear Paderewski's nostalgic Légende when most pianists of the time were recording his Minuet in G. The set opens with two pieces that can't fail to raise a smile, Alfred Moffat's arrangements of baroque dances that show off Bourne's gifts; a dazzling technique that offers pin-point clarity, no splashy playing here, rubato that is subtle with no sense of point-making and most especially a relaxed ease at the keyboard that is refreshing.

The playing here is so good that I find it hard to think why her star has faded so thoroughly; APR must be thanked for giving her a voice again and unless you are resolutely opposed to the lighter side of the piano repertoire this is an album that will bring pleasure whenever you listen to it.

Rob Challinor

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) arr. Alfred Edward Moffat (1863-1950)
Two Bourrées
William Shield (1748-1829) arr. Alfred Edward Moffat
The Countess of Westmoreland's delight
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Rondo alla Turca from Sonata in A major K.331
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arr. Selim Palmgren (188-1951)
Menuetto from Divertimento in D major K.334
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Rondo brilliante in E flat major Op 62
Sydney Smith (1839-1889)
Le Jet d'Eau
Stephen Heller (1813-1888)
Tarantelle in A flat major Op 85 No 2
Guiseppe Verdi (1813-1901) arr. Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Rigoletto – paraphrase de concert S.434
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) arr. Franz Liszt
Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman S.440
Isoldens Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde S.447
Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser S445 No 1
Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914)
Étude mélodique from Suite in B minor Op 21
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Polka in B-flat major, Czech dances Book 1 No 4
Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924)
Polish Dance in E-flat minor Op 3 No 1
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)
Légende Op 16 No 1
Cracovienne fantastique Op 14 No 6
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
The Seasons Op 37b No 6 June barcarolle
The Seasons Op 37b No 11 November Troika
Humoresque Op 10 No 2
Waltz in F-sharp minor Op 40 No 9
Ignacio Cervantes (1847-1905)
Six Cuban Dances
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Suite Española I Granada III Sevilla
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Piano Sonata Op 7
Lyric Pieces Op 12 Nos 2,4,5,6
Lyric Pieces Op 43 Nos 1,4,6
Lyric Pieces Op 65 No 6
Ole Olsen (1850-1927)
Christian Sinding (1856-1941)
Rustle of Spring Op 32 No 3
Selim Palmgren
Finnish Rhythms Op 31 Nos 1,2,4
Evening Whispers op 47 No 1
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Etude de Concert Automne Op 35 No 2
Etude de Concert Fileuse Op 35 No 3
Danse Créole - 2nd Havanaise Op.94
Pierrette – Air de Ballet Op 41
Les Sylvains Op 60
Una Bourne (1882-1974)
Petite valse caprice
Marche grotesque
Cyril Scott (1879-1970)
Impromptu Op 41
Summerland Op 54 Nos 2,4
Waltz Op 58 No 1
Water Wagtail Op 71 No 3

Published: October 31, 2022

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount