On record – Duncan Honeybourne: De Profundis Clamavi (EM Records)

de-profundis-clamavi

Armstrong Gibbs An Essex Rhapsody Op.36 (1921); Ballade in D flat (1940)
Bainton Variations and Fugue in B minor Op.1 (1898); The Making of the Nightingale (1921); Willows (1927)
Bridge Piano Sonata H160 (1921-4)
Britten Night Piece ‘Notturno’ (1963)
Edmunds Piano Sonata in B minor (1938)
Pantscheff Nocturnus V: Wing oor die Branders (2015); Piano Sonata (2017)
Parry Shulbrede Tunes (1914)

Duncan Honeybourne (piano)

EM Records EMRCD070-71 [two discs, 156’46”]

Producer Oscar Torres & Richard Pantcheff
Engineer Oscar Torres

Recorded 20 & 21 August 2020 at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Never a pianist to pull his punches, Duncan Honeybourne adds to his expanding discography with this extensive survey of British piano music which, written across almost 120 years and evincing a range of styles, more than reinforces the descriptive heading of the overall project.

What’s the music like?

The first disc begins with the Piano Sonata by Christopher Edmunds. Birmingham-born and long active at the School of Music there, he left a sizable output from which the present work impresses through its wide expressive range within modest formal dimensions. The opening Allegro recalls Medtner in its pivoting between fervency and repose, then the Lento strikes a note of heartfelt emotion underlined by its ‘mesto’ marking. Utilizing aspects of scherzo and finale, the closing Allegro returns to more extrovert concerns as it arrives at a virtuosic close.

Edgar Bainton was still in his teens when composing the Variations and Fugue which became his first acknowledged work. Brahms is a key influence, but the music’s motivic and textural discipline ensures a formal focus throughout the nine deftly contrasted variations then into a tensile and vividly cumulative fugue. Remembered primarily for his songs, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs wrote idiomatically for the piano as is demonstrated by the intricate passagework and often bravura writing of An Essex Rhapsody, while the later Ballade exudes deeper emotion – not least an ominous central section with undeniable overtones of war. Part of a compendious sequence exploring different aspects of night, Richard Pantcheff’s Nocturnus V: Wind on the Waves follows a trajectory of impending marine turbulence that duly regains its earlier calm.

Written at the home of his daughter’s family, Shulbrede Tunes finds Hubert Parry reflecting on domestic environs in a methodically constructed cycle – the 10 pieces taking in evocations of the priory and people within. A lively humour informs Bogies and Sprites that Gambol by Nights, with a ruminative pathos to the fore in Prior’s Chamber by Firelight. Here, as in the exuberant Father Playmate, the aging composer’s devotion to Austro-German romanticism results in music which is as affecting as Parry’s orchestral and choral works from this period.

The second disc opens with two further pieces by Bainton. From among his many miniatures, Willow is a limpidly impressionist album-leaf of no mean poignancy, then The Making of the Nightingale evokes this bird’s creation in imaginative terms that are appealingly realized here. Written for the first Leeds International Piano Competition, Benjamin Britten’s Night Piece is the only acknowledged piano work from his maturity – a study in dynamic and timbral nuance of a finesse as to make one regret his stated antipathy for the modern piano on its own terms.

It is the Piano Sonata by Frank Bridge (placed before the Britten) which inevitably dominates this collection, not least as this recording is among the finest from recent years. Testimony to the composer’s response to the carnage of war as well as its impact on his evolving idiom, the three movements unfold as a single cumulative entity – the sizable opening Allegro preceded by a slow introduction whose main motivic elements are gradually elaborated for the ensuing opposition between anguish and eloquence. The savage rhetoric of its close makes the contrast with the Andante’s consoling rumination more acute, the music as if surveying a landscape of memories which elides straight into the final Allegro with its renewed confrontation of earlier motifs – on the way to a stark denouement then a resigned and almost confessional epilogue.

Pantcheff’s almost contemporary Piano Sonata rounds off this collection. Its three movements each carries an inscription from the epic poem The Axion Esti by Odysseus Elytis that sets the tone for a restive and increasingly tumultuous Inquieto, followed by an Elegia whose sombre imagery might feel almost nihilistic were it not for the plaintive expression that emerges in its latter stages, then a finale whose Alla Vortice marking aptly indicates the gradual intensifying of mood which carries this movement – and the work as a whole – towards its explosive close.

Does it all work?

Undoubtedly, when heard as a collection. Honeybourne has been astute in his planning so that each disc can be appreciated as a stand-alone recital in its own right, or as independent halves of an ‘uber-recital’ which even he would be unlikely to undertake in a live context. All except the Bridge, Britten and Parry are receiving their first recordings, and it would be surprising if some pieces did not enjoy greater exposure in future. For his dedication in championing them, and for putting together such an ambitious anthology, Honeybourne can only be commended.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The piano sound is a shade hard at climaxes, while spacious and wide-ranging elsewhere, with detailed notes on each work and composer from various sources including the pianist. It adds up to an impressive release and a highlight of the EM Records catalogue so far.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the EM Records website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more on Duncan Honeybourne, visit his website – and for more on Richard Pantcheff click here

On record – Aurora Trio: Crépuscule (EM Records)

crepuscule

Alwyn Two Folk Tunes (1936). Crépuscule (1955). Naïades (1971)
Bax Elegiac Trio (1916)
Lewis Divertimento (1982)
Lipkin Trio (1982)
Patterson Canonic Lullaby (2016)
Rawsthorne Suite (1968)

Aurora Trio [Emma Halnan (flute), Jordan Sian (viola), Heather Wrighton (harp)]

EM Records EMRCD069 [76’52”]

Producer Tom Hammond
Engineer John Croft

Recorded 15-16 February, 13 August 2020 at St John the Evangelist, Oxford

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The Aurora Trio makes its debut for EM Records in a collection of British music featuring flute, viola and harp that spans exactly 100 years and encompasses a variety of approaches with regards to the combining of these distinct yet undeniably complementary instruments.

What’s the music like?

If not the most elaborate of his numerous works for ensemble, Arnold Bax’s Elegiac Trio is among his most affecting as an in-memoriam for those friends who died in the course of the Easter Uprising in Ireland. Although the overall mood rarely moves far from that implied by the title, the undulating emotion filtering through the textural ‘weave’ proves as subtle as it is elusive. Scored for just flute and harp, William Alwyn’s Naïades unfolds on a larger scale and inhabits a wider range of expression as it evokes both the eponymous spirits of antiquity and the environs of the Suffolk village of Blythburgh where it was written, while also being    a ‘fantasy sonata’ whose instruments interact with more than a little improvisatory freedom.

By contrast, the Suite that Alan Rawsthorne wrote for the Robles Trio is typical of his later music in its harmonic astringency and oblique while never abstruse tonal follow-through. A highly personal use of serial elements underpins the elegant opening Andantino as surely as it does a graceful, intermezzo-like Allegretto then the more demonstrative Allegro vigoroso. All these other works are here receiving their first recordings. Alwyn’s Crépuscule for harp offers a foretaste of that masterly concerto Lyra Angelica in its ethereal poise, whereas his Two Folk Tunes emerges as an appealingly contrasted duo – viola and harp as ruminatively combined in Meditation as they are animatedly juxtaposed in Who’ll buy my besoms?

The highlight is undoubtedly the Trio by Malcolm Lipkin, a composer yet to receive his due and who, as the present work affirms, was unafraid to elide between tradition and innovation with strikingly personal results – whether in the terse emotional contrasts of its Variations, tense and increasingly soulful inwardness of its Intermezzo or purposeful onward progress of a Finale whose impetus subsides towards the pensively fatalistic coda. Canonic Lullaby has Paul Patterson bring flute and harp into limpid accord, while Paul Lewis’s Divertimento puts all three instruments through their paces in a lively March, before embracing them in the lyrical Love Song then cordially sending them on their way in the nonchalant Waltz.

Does it all work?

Yes, given the relative stylistic range of the music featured and, moreover the quality of these performances. Care has evidently been taken to assemble the eight works into a cohesive and satisfying sequence such as this ensemble might tackle at one of its recitals, and which flows well as an overall programme. The playing leaves nothing to be desired in terms of accuracy, while the relative personality of each composer cannot be gainsaid. Ideally the release would encourage composers from the middle and younger generations to write for this combination.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The recording is excellent, with the frequently awkward balance between instruments expertly judged, and there are detailed annotations on both the works and their composers. It all adds up to a worthwhile release which deserves to be followed up, hopefully on this label.

Listen & Buy

You can discover more about this release and listen to clips at the EM Records website, where you can also purchase the recording. For more on the Aurora trio, you can visit their website

On record – Holst: Christmas Music (Godwine Choir) (EM Records)

Holst
In the Bleak Midwinter H71 (1904)
Four Old English Carols H82 (1907)
Two Carols H91 (1907/16)
Christmas Day H109 (1910)a
Lullay my Liking H129 (1916)
This Have I Done for My True Love H128 (1916)
Of One that is so Fair and Bright H130 (1916)
Bring us in Good Ale H131 (1916)
Three Carols H133 (1916/17)a
A Dream of Christmas H139 (1917)a
Wassail Song H182 (c1931)
Scherzo H192 (1933, arr. Brasier)**
Four Organ Voluntaries HApp8-11 (1890/1, transc. John Wright)*

*John Wright (organ); **Richard Brasier, **Tom Bell (organ duet); Godwine Choir / Alex Davon Wetton, Edward Hughes with a Douglas Tang (organ); b Charlotte Evans (oboe); c Alison Moncrieff-Kelly (cello)

EM Records EMR CD0062 [82’42”]

Producer / Engineer Myles Eastwood

Recorded 13 & 14 July 2019 at St Jude-on-the-Hill, London; **22 August 2019 at Hereford Cathedral

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

EM Records continues its enterprising release schedule with this anthology of seemingly all Holst’s choral music written for or with Christmas in mind, along with first recorded outings of original pieces plus a transcription for organ that in themselves explain this album’s title.

What’s the music like?

As incrementally wide-ranging as might be expected from a composer whose never wore his distinctive personality on his sleeve. Earliest of the choral works is also the most famous – a setting of In the Bleak Midwinter that will be heard the Christian world over these next few weeks (no comment as to a preference between this and Harold Darke’s setting!). Intricately wrought in rhythm and texture, the Four Old English Carols exude a luminously Medieval atmosphere, as also the Two Carols with their modally evocative harmony. Most ambitious among these earlier items, Christmas Day alternates before superimposing its four carols in this heady and engaging medley – of which Holst’s subsequently dismissive view says more about his constantly changing stylistic preoccupations than any intrinsic failing of this work.

Almost all the latter choral pieces date from around the time of Holst’s move to Thaxted and the festival he initiated there. The call-and-response of Lullay my Liking retains its enduring charm, but how surprising I Saw Three Ships has not previously been recorded, its vivacity as appealing as the purposefulness of Personent hodie or gaiety of Masters in this Hall. Holst’s view that Of One that is so Fair and Bright ‘‘should be done simply like a good village choir’’ might give pause for thought, its rhythmic flow as exacting as the cumulative vocal weave of This Have I Done for My True Love or the accelerating part-writing of Bring us in Good Ale. There is an almost impressionistic allure to the little-known A Dream of Christmas, with the Wassail Song a reminder of the ribald element that often surfaces in this composer’s music.

Even Holst’s admirers are likely unfamiliar with his output for solo organ, if only because the four voluntaries in question have gone unheard since the teenage composer tried them out in his Cheltenham schooldays. Modest in scope, the first three are an intriguing parallel to what his contemporary Ives was coming up with across the Atlantic – thus the resolute March, the whimsical Allegretto Pastorale and the capering Postlude. Much more ambitious, the Funeral March is an animated processional whose opulent climaxes and quirky registrations admit of more personal traits. From Alpha to Omega – the Scherzo being the only movement realized of the symphony upon which Holst was working at his death, arranged here for organ duet by Richard Brasier such that its contrapuntal dexterity and fluid evolution are acutely conveyed.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. Holst was a master of many guises; his Christmas output is unfailingly evocative for all its technical demands. It helps that performances by the London-based Godwine Choir are so attentive to this music’s spirit, as are Brasier and Tom Bell in the Scherzo transcription.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The Hampstead and Hereford venues are ideal acoustics, and the booklet note includes an overview of choral items by Chris Cope – Chairman of the Holst Society, whose extensive recording programme will result in much unfamiliar music being brought to light.

Listen and Buy

You can discover more about this release at the EM Records website, where you can hear clips from the recording and also purchase.

On record – Roderick Williams, Michael Dussek & Bridge Quartet: Those Blue Remembered Hills (EM Records)

Gurney
The Western Playland (and of Sorrow) (1920)
Edward, Edward (1914)
By A Bierside (1916)
String Quartet in D minor (1924-5)
Howells
There was a Maiden (1915)
Girl’s Song (1916)
King David (1919)
The Mugger’s Song (1919)

Roderick Williams (baritone), Michael Dussek (piano), Bridge Quartet [Colin Twigg, Catherine Schofield (violins), Michael Schofield (viola), Lucy Wilding (cello)]

EM Records EMR CD065 [80’52”]

Producer Rupert Marshall-Luck
Engineer Patrick Allen

Recorded 4 & 5 June 2018 at Potton Hall, Suffolk

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The latest release from EM Records is largely devoted to music by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937), including the second of his song-cycles with ensemble and the first recording of a large-scale string quartet composed before encroaching mental illness led to a cessation of his creativity.

What’s the music like?

Time was when Gurney was viewed as a poet who also wrote songs, but recent research has unearthed piano music, two orchestral pieces and numerous chamber works. Just how much he wrote and destroyed in a period of activity through to 1927 will probably never be known.

It was the success of Ludlow and Teme (recorded on EMRCD036) which led Gurney to essay a second song-cycle after A. E. Housman. Equally well received, The Western Playland was revised in 1925, when (and of Sorrow) was added to the title as if to point up that emotional dislocation the composer felt when incarcerated at City of London Mental Hospital – far from his beloved Gloucestershire. The eight songs traverse a wide expressive range, with such as a limpid setting of Loveliest of Trees and a purposeful take on Is my Team Ploughing very different in manner yet comparable in quality to those by Butterworth or Vaughan Williams. The forced jollity of the initial Reveille strikes a slightly jarring note, but the final March conjures a luminous poise which is further enhances by its extended instrumental postlude.

Also featured are two of Gurney’s songs with piano – that of the anonymous ballad Edward, Edward summons a malevolence that finds natural contrast with the sombre wartime (indeed, trench-bound) setting of John Masefield’s By a Bierside. Four songs by Herbert Howells are a reminder of the close personal and regional ties between these composers – three of which are appealing in their craftsmanship, with the setting of Walter de la Mare’s King David as affecting as any song from this period and justifiably receiving of the poet’s endorsement.

The centrepiece here is a String Quartet in D minor – one of several written during Gurney’s incarceration and which, fortunately for posterity, he was able to hear performed thanks to the redoubtable musicologist Marion M. Scott. Extensive revisions made deciphering his ultimate intentions more difficult, but the time and effort has been well worthwhile. The EMR release referred to above contains the original version of the work’s Adagio, and the revision as heard here only intensifies its anguished pathos. This, along with the ruminative ensuing intermezzo, are the highlights of an ambitious entity – the motivic ingenuity of whose opening movement feels undermined by lack of textural or rhythmic clarity; this latter failing arguably inhibiting the vehemence and drama which otherwise inform the finale as it surges to its fatalistic close.

Does it all work?

Almost. Roderick Williams is at his perceptive best in the songs, sensitively accompanied by Michael Dussek. The Bridge Quartet is superb in the song-cycle and makes a fine effort in the quartet, of which further performances are needed to assess the full extent of its achievement.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Gurney is a composer whose stature has only latterly become apparent, and to which this disc is a signal contribution. Spacious and natural sound balance, together with detailed and often insightful annotations, further enhance what is another indispensable EMR release.

Listen and Buy

You can discover more about this release at the EM Records website, where you can hear clips from the recording and also purchase.

On record: Rupert Marshall-Luck, Duncan Honeybourne – Parry: The Wanderer – Complete works for violin and piano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Duncan Honeybourne (piano)

Parry
Suite no.2 in F major (1907)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 1 (1894)
Violin Sonata no.1 in F major Op.80
Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Sonata in D Minor for violin and piano (1875)
Freundschaftslieder (1872)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 2 (1894)
Partita in D minor (1873)
Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Fantasie-Sonata in Einem Satz für Violine und Clavier (1878)
Suite no.1 in D major for violin and piano (1907)
Twelve Short Pieces for Violin and Piano: Set 3 (1894)
Two Early Pieces (‘Written at Weston for Ernst to play on his Violin’) (1863)
Miniatures for violin and piano
Sonata in D major for piano and violin (1888)

EM Records EMRCD050-52 [three discs, 164’19”]

Recorded 28-30 April 2016, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk

Producer Matthew Bennett
Engineer Dave Rowell

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

EM Records issues one of its most important releases to date, the complete works for violin and piano by Hubert Parry – the centenary of whose death occurred on October 7th last year – in what is a notable addition to the expanding discography of this still-neglected composer.

What’s the music like?

Parry’s output for violin and piano falls into two types. Firstly, shorter pieces equivalent to the French morceau or German album-blatt have been collated as the 10 Miniatures (not the composer’s title). Probably dating from his later years though never published in his lifetime, they present no great difficulties for players or listeners and were likely intended for domestic music-making. Also in this category come the Two Early Pieces, the teenage composer demonstrating an ambition that only just exceeds his technical skill at this juncture.

More advanced are the remaining short pieces, of which the Freundschaftslieder marks his early engagement with the early-Romanticism of Schubert and Mendelssohn. These four surviving (out of five) pieces unfold as a sequence of gradually intensifying expression, set in motion by the wistful poise of ‘The confidence of love’. Collated in 1894, the 12 Short Pieces were published in three sets of four – of which the exquisite ‘Idyll’ (Set 1 No 1), the eloquent ‘Romance’ (2/2) and ingratiating ‘Envoi’ (3/4) ought to find favour as frequent encore items.

The larger works are all direct and substantial engagements with the legacies of Schumann and Brahms. Bach, even, in the Partita in D minor, though these six movements only approximate to Baroque archetypes – with Parry cutting loose in a teasingly ironic Bourées fantastiques then animated Passepied en rondo. If the Sonata in D minoris a little too indebted to its models, for all its technical mastery and purposeful virtuosity, the Sonata in D ranks among his finest achievements in its formal focus and expressive impetus.

Equally engaging is the Fantasie-Sonate in B, not least for the skill with which Parry integrates its four contrasted sections into a single movement whose emotional breadth looks forward to his last orchestral works. Both published in 1907 though originating much earlier, the Suites are more relaxed in manner while being typical of their composer’s maturity; for which sample either fourth movement – the Suite in D’s tonally questing Dialogue, or the Suite in F’s harmonically subtle Retrospective with its evocative recalling of earlier ideas.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least because of the performers – Rupert Marshall-Luck endowing violin lines with real flexibility and Duncan Honeybourne ensuring some densely chorded piano parts never feel overbearing; both players overcoming any tendency to registral or rhythmic uniformity. Not all this music was unrecorded: Erich Gruenberg tackled the Sonata in D, Fantasie-Sonate and 12 Short Pieces in 1985 (Hyperion), while Marshall-Luck set down the three sonatas only a decade ago (Radegund), but the present accounts set new standards for these works overall.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound offers a realistic perspective on this difficult medium, with detailed notes about each piece (by Jeremy Dibble?). Along with the string quartets (MPR) and piano trios (Hyperion), almost all of Parry’s chamber output is now available in authoritative recordings.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the release on the EM Recordings website, and for more information on the two performers, visit the websites of Rupert Marshall-Luck and Duncan Honeybourne respectively.