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Len Mullenger:

On Heather Hill: Duo-Piano Discoveries from the British Isles
York Bowen
 Complete Works for piano duet .
Mervyn Roberts
A Christmas Prelude. Passacaglia. Two Chorales for two pianos. Elegy for two pianos
Alan Richardson
Debutante. Grandmother's Waltz. On Heather Hill. Improvisation on a Nursery Tune
Hamilton Harty
Fantasy for two pianos op.6

Bruce Posner and Donald Garvelmann (pianos)
Olympia OCD 680
Crotchet  Amazon UK 

The American piano Duo of Bruce Posner and Donald Garvelmann claim, on this exciting disc, to have discovered a wealth of British pianism. I venture to suggest that, for a great many listeners, the 'discovery' will prove a 'revelation'. For those of us who can (smugly) claim to have known this music for years (with the exception of the Harty, which IS a revelation) the feeling is more likely to be one of satisfaction that this music - usually heard only at intimate gatherings of cognoscenti, or at homely musical family 'get-togethers', is now to be heard in 'The public domain' (horrible expression that Sorabji would have shuddered at!). It is only a matter for regret that none of the composers represented is now alive to enjoy it.

Why such richly inventive and beautifully crafted music should now need to be 'discovered' - and in America - is a mystery. These composers weren't in any way "prophets" whose country should deny them honour? They belong fairly and squarely to the opening span of the twentieth century in British music - and with a consummate sense of style, and a command of contrapuntal technique, share the harmonic characteristics that were part and parcel of the musical currency of the period in this country. They do not however in any way 'date'!

For reasons why this music should have an especial character and piano writing of such a high quality (apart from the fact that they were all themselves fine pianists) one must look to the teachers with whom they studied, and the width of their education Matthay (of whom one young student said ·I thought you only taught 'touch' - and here you are teaching me music!-) Craxton, Arthur Alexander (himself a Matthay pupil), R.O. Morris and from the same stable came also Dale and Bax..!

Of them all York Bowen was the most prolific, with a formidable body of piano compositions, all approachable, but of a quality which prompted the perspicacious Sorabji to describe it as the 'finest English piano music written in our time.' (Mi Contra Fa)

The disc's title is chosen from the elegantly contrapuntal 'On Heather Hill' of the Scot Alan Richardson. This might suggest a programmatic element throughout (perhaps encouraged by Garvelmann's engaging programme notes) - but while this perhaps applies to the Harty, and to some extent to the Richardson pieces, the other compositions are not really impressionistic but have an almost classical 'rightness' of expression, an elegance that is subtly delivered in the writing for the instrument. Richardson's music, like Bowen's though less demanding technically, is very satisfying to explore.

The early Harty pieces - a discovery perhaps recalling the long neglect of Elgar's Concert Allegro - with its quasi-Celtic overtones, is a big dramatic work which Donald Garvelmann has prepared for this performance (the first since 1902) Its opening gestures (hints of MacDowell) suggest tragedy, wistfully echoed in the subtle lyricism that follows. A more heroic aspect is developed to end with positive affirmation - altogether a 'discovery' and a valuable contribution to the repertoire.

The darkest horse in the stable is Mervyn Roberts, a Welsh composer, all of whose work shows a strong melodic impulse, often of a kind of Bach-like spirituality, here underlined in the two published Chorales and in the chorale-prelude-like tune of the Elegy. This melodic line is embedded in very characteristic and deceptively adventurous harmony that lifts even his shortest ostensibly 'teaching' pieces out of the schoolroom (to which so much fine British piano music is too often relegated.) The programme note makes a plea for his Piano Sonata (revised in 1949 and which won the Edwin Evans prize in 1950) - and I would underline that plea: a recording of that fine work and the beautiful

Variations on an original Theme for two pianos (both Novello) is long overdue.

The Duo's enthusiasm in their discovery of this music (and I can assure them that there is lots more to be 'discovered') is communicated in their playing - crisp, clear and at times bordering on the excitable! I hope they will pursue their quest!


Colin Scott Sutherland

and Phil Scowcroft adds:

The twelve works here were "discoveries" for me, I had heard none of them and indeed all bar the title piece are first recordings or first CD recordings. All are attractively tuneful and most may plausibly be reckoned as light music. Least known of the four composers is the Welsh-born Mervyn Roberts (1906-90); even pieces like Passacaglia in F, Two Chorales, even Elegy in E Flat Minor, the latter two for two pianos, are so shapely and lyrical as to be immediately approachable, while A Christmas Prelude - not based on any seasonal tune, as far as I know - is agreeable light music. York Bowen, England's representative here, was formidably prolific, whose output includes much lighter music, and here we have his complete output for four hands, one piano: the two Suites of 1918 and 1923 and effectively another suite, the marginally lighter Four Pieces (1930). All ten movements are memorable, especially the vigorous Dance (1st Suite) and Moto Perpetuo (2nd Suite) and the atmospheric Barcarolle (also 2nd Suite). Bowen is surely due for major revival. Edinburgh-born Alan Richardson (1904-78) is exemplified here by the winsome Debutante and Grandmother's Waltz, a Victorian "take off", and the delicious topographical tone poem On Heather Hill, all for two pianos, and, for 4 hands one piano, Improvisation on a Nursery Tunes ("Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush") which arouses memories of his namesake Clive Richardson's many similar excursions. Finally, and maybe interestingly, Donald Garvelmann has reconstructed Harty's early (1902) Fantasy for Two Pianos from two manuscript copies, a piece obviously Irish in flavour, which begins and ends boldly, with appealingly tuneful contrasting episodes in between. This may be its first performance since 1902. Performances (the pianists, incidentally, are American) are crisp and well focused, the recording and presentation excellent. This generously filled disc enjoyably extends our experience and I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with it.


Phil Scowcroft


Colin Scott Sutherland


Phil Scowcroft

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