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Bourne HMV 6037
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Una Bourne (piano)
Australian Recording Pioneer: HMV Recordings
rec. 1914-1926
APR 6037 [77 + 77]

Una Bourne’s name is not the first to come to mind when thinking about restoration projects and I don’t know anyone who actively collects her recordings but someone must. The Australian pianist (1882-1974), Melba’s ‘associate artist’ for her Australian tours between 1907 and 1912, was active in Britain from the years before the First World War until the late 1930s when she returned to her native country. There she performed and taught. In 1967 the BBC broadcast a tribute programme to Melba in which Bourne spoke, as did Percy Grainger, Peter Dawson and others: perhaps it’s survived.

She recorded quite heavily for HMV and the recordings in this twofer obviously don’t represent her complete solo recordings. APR claims the recordings date from 1914-26 but according to its own documentation, there is one side from 1928. This is pretty much the end of her as a recording artist, as the broom of change swept away a number of musicians. The recordings of hers that are most recommendable are with the British violinist Marjorie Hayward, with whom she recorded largely abridged sonatas. However, all the pieces in this release are her solo recordings, largely – but not exclusively – acoustic recordings.

As booklet writer Jeremy Nicholas - whom one can feel biting his critical tongue – makes clear, Bourne was most associated with the salon repertoire. It’s not Bourne’s fault that a swathe of these discs is on the frivolous side, as no artist in 1924 could possibly imagine an audience listening to two and a half hours of her recordings, one after the other. It’s wholly ahistorical to do so, but one has no real choice in the matter.

As is its wont APR programmes the music by composer, where it can, so that an acoustic 1914 Chaminade sits next to an electric 1925 one. It’s evident that Bourne had serious limitations as an artist. Her Mozart Rondo alla Turca is certainly fast – she was a fleet-fingered performer generally – but lacks wit and necessarily omits repeats. Her style was somewhat superficial, notwithstanding that in any case much of the material was itself surface-glittery. In Sydney Smith’s rather charmingly trivial Le Jet’d’Eau she makes a few fluffs but it prefaces a sequence of remorseless Wagner-Liszt hyphenations from the dark days of WW1 where she has to rush to fit the Liebestod onto a single side. She may have come across convincingly at the time, with a glittering treble, but the more subtle transfers of our time reveal a bit of a limited colourist with a propensity to hammer away, such as she does in Stephen Heller’s Tarantelle.
She could certainly be a most convincing technician but if you line up her 1926 Paderewski Cracovienne fantastique with Paderewski’s own – take your pick from 1922 or 1923 – you will find that she lacks his rhythmically teasing caprice as well as his sense of light and shade. It’s Bourne at her worst – superficial, showy, and remorseless. Yet she could also programme and record the Six Cuban Dances by Ignacio Cervantes in 1923; what we find here is a different pianist, whose playing is vested with unusual brio. The repertoire on this first disc, though, is largely rondos, waltzes, dances and arrangements.

On CD2 one finds a more focused look at her major preoccupations; Nordic composers, Chaminade and her own pieces. She recorded a valuable slice of Grieg. Her Piano Sonata recording of 1921 was apparently the only pre-War 78 set. Nicholas mentions it just lacks a minute in the finale by virtue of a cut. The cut is actually 62 bars and I make it a loss of two minutes. She plays this well but Grieg actually recorded the Alla menuetto and Finale in 1903 and he finds the changeable moods better; he is also a more rhythmically supple performer. The various Lyric Pieces are attractive if undemanding in the main but in Butterfly she is etude-like and strictly mechanical (Grieg’s own performance is so superior). Palmgren’s Evening Whispers is a more evocative piece than his rather vapid Finnish Rhythms but some interest will focus on her Chaminade recordings made when the French composer was still very much alive. Back in 1901 when Chaminade recorded Pierette she was more droll and chic than Bourne, nor does Bourne really sculpt Les sylvains as the composer does. Bourne’s own character pieces are light and bright, and worth an occasional listen. There is also a 1923 Cyril Scott sequence of which HMV remade Water Wagtail in 1929 with the composer. Rather typically, Bourne sounds altogether too bullish in comparison.

When she wasn’t engaged as a sonata player, Bourne was a vignette and salon player and she certainly had a presence in the British market of her time. It’s certainly not her fault that listening to so many of these pieces in a row makes me feel like a seal being clubbed. She could be charming and effective but all too often comparison with other players reveals an essential lack of imagination – a propensity to drive through phrases, to ignore opportunities for rubato and to also to ignore light and shade.

Some of these HMVs could be noisy but the transfers bring the sound forward to allow one to appreciate her tonal qualities with admirable directness and clarity.

Jonathan Woolf


Message received from Mike Spring of APR

APR conforms that the 1928 date referredto in the second paragraph is a typo. The correct date is 16 September 1925 and the digital booklet for those who buy downloads has the correct details.   

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Two Bourrées arr Alfred Moffat
William Shield (1748-1829)
The Countess of Westmoreland’s Delight arr Alfred Moffat
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Rondo alla Turca, from Sonata in A major, K331
Menuetto, from Divertimento in D major, K443 arr Selim Palmgren (1878–1951)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Rondo brillamte in E-flat major, Op 62
Sydney Smith (1839-1889)
Le Jet d’Eau, Op 17
Stephen Heller (1813-1888
Tarantella in A flat major, Op 85/2
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Rigoletto – Paraphrase de Concert arr Franz Liszt as S434
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
The Flying Dutchman – The Spinning Chorus arr Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Tristan und Isolde – Liebestod arr Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Tannhäuser – Entry of the Guests arr Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914
Etude melodique, Suite in B minor, Op 21 No 5
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Polka in B-flat major, No 4 from Czech Dances Book1
Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924)
Polish Dance in E flat minor, Op 3 No 1
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941)
Legende, Op 16 No 1
Cracovienne fantastique, Op 14 No 6
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
The Seasons; No 6 June ‘Barcarolle’ 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 No 1, Op 47; I. Granada III. Sevilla
Enrique Granados (1867–1916)

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Piano Sonata in E minor, Op 7
Lyric Pieces, Op 12 Nos II. Waltz VI Norsk V. Folk Song IV Elfin Dance
Lyric Pieces, Op 43 Nos. I Butterfly IV Little Bird VI To Spring
Lyric Pieces, Op 76 VI. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
Ole Olsen (1850-1927)
Christian Sinding (1856–1941)
Rustle of Spring
Selim Palmgren (1878–1951)
Finnish Rhythms, Op 31 Nos 1, II, V
Evening Whispers, No 1 from Spring, Op 47
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Etudes de concert, Op 35 II Automne III Fileuse
Danse créole (Havanaise No 2), Op 94
Pierrete – 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 II. A Song from the East IV. A fairy Folk
Waltz No 1 from Three Little Waltzes, Op 58
Water Wagtail, Op 71 No 3

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