|REVIEWS: divine art dda 25024 Explorations (Goldstone & Clemmow)|
The earliest is Holst’s suite, recorded here for the first time for two pianos, a version which may have been made by Vally Lasker, although the details are uncertain in this regard. The shortest, somewhat surprisingly, are the fascinating Two Chinese Folk-Songs by Ronald Stevenson, from 1966, in marked contrast to his vast Passacaglia on DSCH, which Murray McLachlan has recorded on Divine Art 25013, for they last less than five minutes overall.
We have three works by the excellent composer Anthony Hedges, his very successful 1974 Piano Sonata, here played by Anthony Goldstone, and the Five Aphorisms and Three Explorations from 1990 and 2002, played by Caroline Clemmow, each of which receive admirable performances. Perhaps the most impressive work of all in this collection is the Prelude, Hymn and Toccata for two pianos, opus 96, by Kenneth Leighton, written in 1987, the year before his death. This is a masterly score of no little stature, and the performance is most compelling. This CD is strongly recommended.
Firstly, there is the booklet. The notes, largely by Anthony Goldstone himself, are exemplary. They tell us the sort of things we should know in order to inform our listening, including enough of each composer’s background to lend understanding to the kind of music he wrote (writes). There is also sufficient about the music itself to guide us through each work in turn and make the listening even more rewarding.
Then there is the music itself. Many will know Holst’s Japanese Suite in its orchestral guise, a charming, if minor, product of his still under-rated (and under-heard) genius and just as effective in the transcription.
Anthony Hedges makes three contributions to the disc and all bear the imprint of one who is adept at producing light, as well as more demanding, music. The two sets of short pieces - ‘Three Explorations’ and ‘Five Aphorisms’ - communicate immediately yet also have enough substance to reward repeated listening. As for the Sonata, though obviously by the same hand, it is by its very nature more substantial. As befits the music of one who successfully taught composition for many years it is lucid and logical in its thought processes and riveting as music, unfolding more and more of its considerable treasures on subsequent hearings.
Perhaps the major work on the disc is Kenneth Leighton’s Prelude, Hymn and Toccata. In some ways I wish the sleeve-note had not disclosed the name of the hymn tune at the centre of the piece. (Leighton does not name it). But whether you are in the know or not (on first hearing I was not) it is fascinating to hear how the composer uses splintered fragments of what is a very well known tune indeed to give logic, continuity, substance and structure to what is undoubtedly a major utterance.
So much for the music; now the performance. Goldstone and Clemmow are one of music’s foremost duos. Their playing of the major duo and duet repertoire always tingles with excitement and rewards with perceptive musicianship. And this disc is no exception. Whether at one or two pianos, what we hear is both virtuoso and illuminating.
Goldstone is, of course, an eminent soloist in his own right and Anthony Hedges must surely count himself fortunate to have such a commanding performance of what is a very fine piece. But, something I have also suspected, the performances of Hedges’ shorter pieces show Caroline Clemmow to be a fine pianist too. On this showing she should emerge more often from the duo and lend her considerable talents to the solo repertoire.
If you haven’t already guessed it, I was bowled over by this disc and urge you to have a similar experience by buying it.
Just one word of warning: don’t attempt to devour it all in one sitting; it is far too substantial a meal for such an approach and each course merits special attention in its own right.
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW:
As ever the duo’s playing is beyond reproach.
The solo Sonata, played by Goldstone, also has a magnetic slow movement, and a brilliantly inventive Rondo finale, recalling material from the first two movements to make a relaxed interlude before the vigorous coda. The exotic Japanese Suite of Holst and, just as enticing, the Chinese Folk Songs of Ronald Stevenson offer welcome contrast - especially the catchy ‘Song of the Crab Fisherman’.
The collection is dominated by Kenneth Leighton’s Prelude, Hymn and Toccata, an immensely commanding antiphonal two-piano work. The Hymn is a heavily submerged and disguised “Abide with Me”, fascinatingly developed. It ends peacefully, to be followed by a hugely arresting closing Toccata, ending with a characteristic Presto precipitato, played here with exhilarating abandon, ending abruptly and leaving the listener gasping. Excellent recording throughout.
MUSICWEB : (2)
His 1974 Sonata is in three movements and though, as Hedges makes clear in his notes, it’s not cast in traditional sonata form his structural acuity and sense of emotive pull are such that we always feel that we know where we are. The free flowing second movement hints at March themes and baroque features amidst the veil of Scriabin’s influence and the finale is one that immediately lightens the texture whilst simultaneously – and triumphantly – reconciling earlier themes in powerful proximity. A stirring and notable work, this. His Five Aphorisms are brief and incisive pieces; the second is flecked with treble sonorities and the fourth, a Lento, contrasts static chords with perkier motifs and is entertainingly mobile.
The Japanese Suite of Holst is here in the arrangement by Berlin-born Vally Lasker, who joined the staff of St Paul’s Girls’ School in 1907 and stayed for fifty-five years. She was also an exceptional help to Holst, who was Director of Music there from 1905 until his death, not least as occasional amanuensis. The separate piano parts of the suite are in Lasker’s hand though it’s conjectural whether these parts were copied from Holst’s own two-piano score (as with the Planets) but, in any case, no such score has survived. The Dance of the Marionette is genuinely aerial and balletic and the Dance under the Cherry Tree has, by contrast, the formal allusiveness of a haiku. But it’s the Prelude (Song of the Fishermen) that touches the deepest nerve – a really beautiful folk song, full of the most plangent delicacy. Appropriately we also have Stevenson’s Two Chinese Folk-Songs of which the Song of the Crab-fisher is ebullience itself, full of life.
The excellence of the recording serves only to enhance this production, which has the advantage of authoritative notes (especially from Hedges and Stevenson). There are significant things here – not always easily prised open, it’s true, but all the more valuable for that very reason.
It is difficult not to listen to this work without reflecting on the fact that it is based around the hymn tune Abide With Me. This in itself was nothing unusual, for Leighton was a deeply religious man who produced a large quantity of fine church music. Hymns were therefore an inextricable part of his musical and personal life. That said, the choice of hymn, given what was around the corner, is particularly poignant and in so many ways this piece seems a summation of all that was integral to Leighton’s compositional personality.
The hymn tune itself is buried deep inside the long, profoundly affecting slow movement. So deep in fact that I suspect few would be likely to spot the oblique references, often fleeting and harmonic rather than melodic. Yet this is quintessential Leighton, at once deeply serious, touchingly beautiful and haunting in its feeling of spirituality yet rubbing shoulders with passages of rhythmic dynamism that were an equal trademark. In the opening Prelude, double dotted rhythms abound and as this comparatively short movement progresses phrases are tossed backwards and forwards between the two instruments until the initially uneasy tranquillity of the slow movement is reached. In the concluding Toccata the very opening bars immediately bring to mind the piano music of Messiaen and John McCabe (track three from beginning) the latter Leighton’s junior by some ten years. Indeed on a rhythmic level at least, comparisons can be drawn between Leighton’s music and McCabe’s own momentum-charged writing for the piano. Other than these few bars however the rest of the movement is Leighton’s own as for the large part, with just brief melodic reprieves, the toccata progresses headlong towards its startlingly abrupt conclusion. The sheer energy of the music is finely mirrored in Anthony Goldstone’s and Caroline Clemmow’s thrillingly dynamic performance.
Anthony Hedges is one of those rare composers that can float between the worlds of serious music and light music with total ease and conviction although he may well be better known for many for his more popular excursions. Yet here is proof that his grittier work can be highly impressive in its integrity and technique. The fact that the composer is a fine pianist is evident in the quality and technical control of the writing, nowhere more so than in the impressive solo Sonata, a robust work cast in three movements. The allegro of the first movement gradually emerges from the chordal opening that sews much of the material for the entire work. The central movement is essentially rhapsodic in character and not unlike the central movement of Explorations whilst the culminating Allegro vivace releases the tension in an energetic summation that builds to a bristling conclusion (track fifteen, final thirty seconds). The Three Explorations were written as recently as 2002 and explore the wide-ranging possibilities that can be extracted from a note cell that is common to each piece. The Five Aphorisms were written to be played in a concert marking the opening of the Anthony Hedges Archive in Hull and although the five brief pieces pass through a variety of moods the outer movements are essentially lively in style.
Holst’s Japanese Suite is not one of his better-known works, possibly overshadowed by the more familiar Oriental Suite, Beni Mora. Yet melodically it is highly attractive and Holst’s treatment of the old Japanese songs, originally whistled to him by a dancer, are imaginative and full of his characteristic rhythmic and harmonic twists. There is some doubt as to whether the two piano version was actually made by the composer himself and copied by his amanuensis Vally Lasker or arranged wholly by her; either way it is both effective and enjoyable. The opening Prelude (Songof the Fisherman) is particularly atmospheric (track seven from 1:30) and returns for a varied reprise in the central Interlude. Continuing the oriental thread Ronald Stevenson’s Two Chinese Folk-Songs are fleeting (not a characteristic always associated with this particular composer!) arrangements of two genuine Chinese songs. The first, Song for New Year’s Day is gentle and treated in canon. The second, Song of the Crab-fisher, is lively in character and is given a fun twist by the melody being treated in counterpoint with its retrograde; what Stevenson punningly refers to as a "crab-canon".
It is good to have these works available on disc and Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow give them all sterling advocacy. It is the Leighton however that steals the show, in a recording that also serves as a fine remembrance of a composer deserving of the highest esteem.
Holst’s two-piano version of the 1915 Japanese Suite is one of several orchestral works surviving in manuscript two-piano recastings in the Royal College of Music: others include Hammersmith, The Perfect Fool and the Fugal Overture. It’s very lovely indeed, based on melodies whistled to Holst by the Japanese dancer who commissioned the score – all wistful pentatonic decorum until the closing ‘Dance of the Fox’ briefly whips up the temperature.
I’m afraid I can’t generate much enthusiasm for the three Anthony Hedges works here, all for solo piano: they are all fluently written, often with a pleasing rhythmic bite and brittle humour. But there seems to be little going on beneath the surface and, without some kind of harmonic fingerprint, to my ear Hedges fails to establish an individual voice despite the occasional excitement.
It’s a pity that, with barely six minutes on McLachlan’s new recital disc, Ronald Stevenson should be represented here, too, only by his brief Two Chinese Folk-Songs – after all, he has a number of substantial two-piano works in his catalogue. But even in these tiny arrangements he manages to leave his mark, treating them as studies in canon, giving the first, ‘A Song for New Year’s Day’ just a hint of Scotland and – a lovely touch, this – equipping the ‘Song of the Crab-Fisher’ with a crab-canon.
Outstanding performances from Goldstone and Clemmow: nothing catches out rhythmic imprecision like two pianos and they are right on the button every time; excellent recorded sound, too.
FEDERATION OF RECORDED MUSIC SOCIETIES BULLETIN:
The first and most major work is Kenneth Leighton’s Prelude, Hymn and Toccata, composed in 1987. An arresting short Prelude is followed by the enigmatical Hymn. The hymn is very well hidden and in fact is the very well known Abide with me, the music is rhapsodic in form with only oblique hints at the tune. The last movement is Toccata which is highly syncopated and is almost jazz-like.
Gustav Holst had exploratory leanings and was interested in the music of India and Japan. His Japanese Suite is fairly well known in the orchestral version and was derived from old Japanese songs provided by Michio Ito a well known dancer. The version played here is by Vally Lasker who was a helper to Holst. The music is most exquisite and the Prelude (Song of the Fishermen) is quite haunting. The final Dance of the Fox draws the suite to an exciting end.
Anthony Hedges is the composer who wrote most of the pieces on the disc; he is described by Anthony Goldstone as “one of the rare breed of composer that is as much at home in the world of ‘light’ music as in that of of the ‘serious’”. His Three Explorations of 2002 is music which has an immediate appeal, but also grows on re-hearing, his Five Aphorisms of 1990 are similar in style but shorter and more compressed. The Sonata of 1974 is a more substantial work its three movements are nicely contrasted with a second movement with traces of Scriabin and a rondo-like finale.
Ronald Stevenson is represented by Two Chinese Folk Songs. These are both short works, each based upon a genuine folk song (both of which are very attractive) but careful listening shows how incredibly well crafted they are. An unusual disc, beautifully played, good recording and exceptionally good notes.
MUSICAL POINTERS: (joint review of 24118 and 25024)
These two CDs have come my way as a spin-off from enjoyment of this famous piano duo's revelatory recording of Schubert's Trout Quintet together with the adagio of his String Quintet. In this special collection of British music they both satisfy my requirement in spades.
It is good to have opportunities to hear Anthony & Caroline both together and each separately. You won't know too much on either disc, even if you're a British contemporary music enthusiast. Goldstone & Clemmow's fans (and they have many, world-wide) will know to expect exemplary presentation with illuminating liner notes, and these are no exceptions.
I generally jib at CD titles which are just handles to catch attention, but both are fully warranted here. The chosen composers to explore are represented by characteristic works of high quality and well planned variety; and the BrittenResonances disc does exactly that too, each item selected to reflect Britten's musical world, teachers and friends. The only ones of the latter selection I knew well are Berkeley's Preludes and Britten's beautiful, reflective Night Piece, having played them for years and, with Goldstone, lamenting that Britten wrote so little for his own instrument solo; that reflecting his social commitment in taking on commissions.
Bridge is well represented by a Cobbett-influenced Fantasia and a far more dissonant Gargoyle; Stevenson, who works on the grand scale (his Passacaglia needs 80 mins) by a compact piece in tribute to Britten and his last opera. Less to my taste is the last of the '70s studies by Matthews, Britten's amanuensis in his final incapacity, in a rather relentless Reich-like minimalist mode.
Nearly all the Resonances was recorded at the RNCM in Manchester, save for Britten's Little Idyll, recorded for the first time at the couple's usual recording venue, the village church (which I once chanced upon) at their home of Alkborough, where they keep a Steinway at the ready (pictured). We all have too much to read on the Net, so I opt to keep this brief, but pointing out that The Divine Art, which like Musical Pointers makes the most of the internet's hyperlink capability, has a splendidly organised and maintained website, in which you can click onto a page full of unabridged reviews of Explorations at http://www.divine-art.com/CD/rev25024.htm.
Buy both these CDs, add some of these artists' releases to your Schubert collection, and you will not have any regrets!