This is a welcome disc.
Priaulx Rainier (1903 - 1986) was born in South Africa
and studied in London from 1920 onwards and made England her home. I
remember the furore when Quanta was first broadcast and how the
newspaper critics savaged the piece. Reviewers are not necessarily musicians
and would not therefore appreciate minor seconds, augmented seconds,
major sevenths and minor ninths even if they knew what they are. The
problem was that the music is abstract and like the superlative String
Quartet it is very serious. Janet Caxton and her London Oboe Quartet
premiered it and I was impressed by it then, as I am now. Robin Canter
is the excellent oboist here. There is something special, original and
rare about this piece which I cannot define. But that can also be said
about the String Quartet which I have admired for many years
and, in fact, wrote an article about in the mid 1970s. It seemed to
me then that Bartók's String Quartet No 5, a veritable
masterpiece, lies behind Rainier's Quartet written some five
years later. I love its weighty seriousness in the first movement, the
joyful and gracious vivace, the thoughtful andante tranquillo
and the concluding presto spiritoso. Again, my shortcomings have
to be displayed. This music has a rare quality but I cannot tell you
what it is.
The String Trio of 1966 is in one movement
and explores the interval of a major ninth. It is another extraordinary
piece in which Rainier's highly developed style is heard at its best.
It has an amazing variety that adds to its interest including bright
dissonances, regular changing metres and rhythms, a fascinating harmony
that usually avoids the predictability of tonal centres and traditionalism.
Many people will find Rainier's music difficult to
listen to whereas I, for one, find it both challenging and highly absorbing.
And I applaud its originality and courage.
Ploërmel was first performed at a BBC
Promenade Concert in 1973. It is in eleven short sections alternating
quick and slow music. The title refers to a place in North West France
and the piece was inspired by local church bells and early morning light
reflected by the stained glass windows. This is, of course, a different
sound world altogether from the other pieces on the disc. The work is
not a showpiece nor is it brassily vulgar but an exploration of each
instrument's potential and the blending of their respective sounds.
It is a complex and uneasy work.
The recording quality is most acceptable as are the
performances. Sadly, the music will not be to everybody's taste. Rainier
was a composer who wrote what she wanted to express. She did not kowtow
to current fashion or public opinion. She was an honest composer. Incidentally,
Menuhin played her Violin Concerto and Jacqueline du Pré
premiered the Cello Concerto at BBC Prom in 1964 but loathed
every second of it, not only because of its idiom, but because it was
technically beyond her.