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William BAINES (1899-1922)
Silverpoints (1920/21) [6:39]
Paradise Gardens (1918/19) [8:29]
Coloured Leaves (1919/20) [8:36]
Twilight Pieces (1921) [7:36]
Tides (1920/21) [5:33]
Seven Preludes (1919) [13:23]
E. J. MOERAN (1894-1950)
Stalham River (1921) [5:16]
The White Mountain (1929) [2:14]
Toccata (1921) [4:40]
Prelude (1935) [2:53]
Berceuse (1935) [2:28]
Bank Holiday (1925) [2:12]
Two Legends (1923) [9:16]
Eric Parkin (piano)
rec. Decca Studio No.3 West Hampstead, London, May 1971 (Baines); St John’s Smith Square, London, April 1970 (Moeran). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.266 [79.26]

I remember receiving a first kiss from a very beautiful and lovely lady in the gardens of the Royal Station Hotel in York. It was a glorious day in July and I was conscious of Matthew Arnold’s ‘all the live murmur of a summer’s day’ around me. Yet the world could have been a million miles away: the busy traffic on Station Rise was invisible and inaudible: even the noise of the trains seemed to belong to a different world. We walked across the lawn, round the fountain and sat by the flower beds. Time stood still. For me it was as if I was in Paradise Gardens. And of course we were. William Baines had looked at this same vista many years in the past. He wrote: "…there was a lovely view, overlooking the gardens of the Station Hotel. You looked through thick green foliage onto the grounds, which were beautifully laid out with flowers - and in the centre a little fountain was playing. A perfect blue sky, and the sun shining low - made indeed a grand picture."

He had watched as the sun set over York. It was on a summer’s day too - 2 June 1918: a few months before the Great War ended. The vision inspired him to compose what may not be regarded as his masterpiece, but is an attractive and beguiling work. It is in fact a tone poem that successfully balances impressionism with sheer romance. This is a technically difficult piece that exploits the resources of the piano. Baines makes use of three staves, and even then one wonders if it is enough. There is a touch of ecstasy and passion about this work that makes it special.

From my point of view the girl is gone and the gardens have largely become a car park – but the music remains. It is hard for me to listen to this piece without my personal programme! It makes a fine introduction to Baines’ piano works.

It is probably not necessary for most readers of this review for me to detail Baines’ life and works – yet a few words may be of help and interest to listeners new to his music.

William Baines was a Yorkshire composer and pianist born at Horbury in the West Riding. He came from a musical background: his father was an organist and played piano at the local cinema. After piano lessons with William Jowett of Leeds and basic composition studies at the Yorkshire Training College of Music, Baines also began work in the cinema. Ill health was to dog him for most of his life and after a few months of military service he returned to York as a recitalist and cinema pianist. He was to spend the rest of his short life composing and playing and exploring his beloved Yorkshire. He died in York in 1922.

The composers that seemed to interest him most include Debussy, Ravel, Bridge and Scriabin. It is not hard to see the influence of these men on his music.

It would be easy to assume that Baines wrote music only for the piano, simply because this is all that has survived and is remembered today. Yet there is a considerable catalogue of works covering a variety of genres including a youthful symphony, a piano concerto and a number of chamber works. Yet it is the piano music that will be long remembered and which interests us here.

The present CD is a reissue of the original LP from 1972 and represents a fine conspectus of the composer’s music. Perhaps Baines’s masterpiece is the Seven Preludes which, taken as a whole, offers an overview of his musical achievement. These seven pieces, written in 1919 explore a huge range of moods and technical requirements. It is therefore surprising that there is a strong sense of unity and purpose about these Preludes when we consider the contrast.

We find an out and out romanticism and sustained passion in the first, an almost ‘opiate tonality’ in the fifth. The fourth prelude is a ‘torrent of semiquavers without key or time signature.’ Yet the second Prelude is deeply reflective. The set ends with a fine explosion of complex Rachmaninov-like octaves and pianism. Yet the coda to this work leaves the listener ‘up in the air’. It is Scriabin who is the most obvious influence here.

Tides is a work that epitomises William Baines’ art. This is music that is both tied to a location – Flamborough Head – yet is timeless. I have written extensively about these pieces in my article A Visit to Flamborough, however it bears repeating that this is fine sea music that is both descriptive and reflective. Perhaps this is one of Baines’ masterpieces?

Coloured Leaves are an interesting set of ‘fancies’ and although they may not be a critical part of Baines’ work are certainly attractive and reveal the composer’s technique and imagination to the full. Is the third number, Still Day the best? The Twilight Pieces are quite advanced in their harmonic language. They are less romantic in nature than much that Baines wrote – in fact there is a simplicity about these pieces that is almost hypnotic. All of them are quiet and reflective and could be seen as valedictory. The composer died the following year. Apart from the Preludes these are probably the most important pieces on this CD.

Silverpoints, which were composed in 1920/21, consist of four short tone poems. Labyrinth is another highly effective sea–picture: a repetitive, almost monotonous piano figuration is used with great effect. Water pearls is actually a little waltz -but not in any way sentimental. The Burning Joss Stick is atmospheric as it should be: the music moving in slow soft chromatic chords and we can feel the incense slowly rising. The last piece is Floralia -which well suggests the voices of laughing children.

E.J. Moeran is probably not generally regarded as a writer of solo piano music. Yet the eight works presented here are all good examples of the composer’s art and I believe that the repertoire would be the poorer without at least a few of them. Yet I do not think I have ever heard one of these pieces ‘live’ – with the exception of Bank Holiday which a friend played for me in the sitting room! And two of the pieces are within the gift of the amateur pianist – so I can play them!

It is easy to suggest that Moeran’s piano music is derivative – John Ireland and to a certain extent Arnold Bax could be adduced as models. Yet listening to these works we discover an individual voice that owes more to the Celtic Twilight movement that any ‘cribbing’ or ‘kleptomania’.

Stalham River is the most impressive piece in this selection. It was written whilst the composer was staying in Norfolk. This is fine ‘water music’ that is complex and chromatic. Yet the work does have its moments of repose – ending quietly. Ireland certainly appears to be the inspiration here. The White Mountain is a concise piece that explores a folk tune - which is played in a number of arrangements: a very simple, but quite beguiling. The programme notes point out that the Toccata was written in the shadow of Bax’s music. Once again it is complex music that balances excitement with romance and a certain touch of Ireland. The work is written in three clear sections: with reflective slow music and an impressive finish.

Bank Holiday can only be described as a romp. It is exactly how I feel when shutting down the computer on Friday night before the Whitsun holiday! Written in a popular yet convincing style it has touches of Percy Grainger about it.

The Two Legends once again allude to an Irish subject and tune. One does not know what the Folk Story is, but it is a highly decorated piece of music that explores a number of moods. Moeran makes use of lots of cascading runs and chromatic chords. All this leads to a complex climax and an enigmatic close. The Rune has a certain intense mournful quality about it, yet we must not forget that a ‘rune’ was a Viking symbol.

There is another edition of William Baines’s piano music available on Priory CDs and I guess that most enthusiasts of English music will already be owners of this recording. Eric Parkin is the soloist on this disc as well and most of the repertoire overlaps. Priory adds an Idyll and Chimes to the programme and Lyrita have the Twilight Pieces and the eight pieces by Jack Moeran. So it is a tough call. Una Hunt gives a convincing recording of the ‘Complete’ Moeran piano music on ASV CD DCA1138 which again will be an essential CD for all English music devotees.

In spite of the fact that Parkin only gives a selection of Moeran’s works and notwithstanding that the sound may not be as clean as the ASV and Priory discs, this is still an important selection. It is fair to say that Parkin consistently understands the depth of Moeran’s music whereas Hunt occasionally seems to miss the ‘Celtic’ nature of some of the pieces.

Yet the bottom line is that this is a fine CD and is essential listening for all who claim to be enthusiasts of British piano music.

John France



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