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A Tribute to Phyllis Sellick, pianist (1911-2007)
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)

Pièces pour clavencin 3eme Livre, 14eme ordre
Le carillon de Cithère [1:56]
Le Pavolet Flotant [2:22]
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772)
Pièces pour clavecin 1er Livre
Le Coucou [1:39]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)

From Pièces de clavecin (1724), Suite in D
Les Tendres Plaintes [2:59]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Pastourelle (L’Eventail de Jeanne no.8) [2:13]
JACQUES IBERT (1890-1962)

Histoires – Le petit ane blanc [1:47]
Les Biches – Adagietto (1924) [3:24]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Images: Book 1 (1905)
I. Reflets dans l'eau [4:40]
Préludes – Book 2 (1913)
Feux d’artifice [4:16]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 -1937)

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917)
Prelude [2:13]; Rigaudon [2:19]; Toccata [3:54]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Prelude - Op.28 No.10 in C sharp minor (1836-1839) [0:26]
Etudes - Op.10 No.5 in G flat major (1829-33) [1:44]

Waltz in A flat [2:11]
Gavotte and Musette [3:00]
Variations in G minor [9:03]
Toccatina [2:28]
Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1937) [21:11]
Phyllis Sellick (piano)
rec. 1941 and 1942 and some undated items
SOMM CD079 [73:56]

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Tippett, Hamilton and Wordsworth piano music played by Margaret Kitchin
CD 1
Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)

Piano Sonata No. 1 (1937 rev.1954) [21:42]
Iain HAMILTON (1922-2000)

Piano Sonata Op. 13 (1951) [19:29]
CD 2
William WORDSWORTH (1908-1988)

Piano Sonata in D Minor Op. 13 (1939) [28:14]
Cheesecombe Suite Op. 27 (1945) [14:03]
Ballade Op. 41 (1949) [9:14]
Margaret Kitchin (piano)
rec. mono, July 1958 (Tippett, Hamilton); April 1959, July 1960 (Wordsworth). ADD
Originally from LPs: Tippett, Hamilton: RCS5; Wordsworth: RCS13
Mid Price Double ADD
LYRITA REAM.2106 MOMO[41:21 + 51:34]
Experience Classicsonline

Both these releases share a common work – Tippett’s First Piano Sonata. The earlier recording is the first ever, by its first performer, Phyllis Sellick. The second, by Margaret Kitchin is of the post-1954 revision. Both are formidable performances given by two musicians of pioneering stature and tremendous technical reserves. Both, for that reason, will be mandatory purchases for specialists in the repertoire – but they actually have wider attractions as well.

Let’s start with the tribute to Phyllis Sellick, who is here represented by a diverse collection of pieces recorded during wartime or in the case of the pieces by Harry Hodge, undated. The early French baroque and later pieces are very much Lazare-Lévy repertoire – in fact much of her repertoire here is just the kind of recital that the great French player and teacher would have given. The echo effects in the Couperin Le Pavolet Flotant are delightful and the sole example of her Rameau is warmly and convincingly voiced. Needless to say she summons up the requisite wit for Ibert and for Poulenc. Her Ravel and Debussy avoid heaviness and find clarity and directness. I don’t know anything about Harry Hodge but his baroque-sounding pieces are curiously moreish. The Waltz is delightfully Chopinesque, and the Gavotte and Musette are charmers with a grand final reprise. The Variations last nine minutes; some Rachmaninoff here, more Chopin, waltz themes and frolicsome fun.

The Tippett is a rather different matter of course and is the focus of things. She premiered the work in 1938 and made this recording of it – her first – for Rimington van Wyck in 1941 at the Decca studios. The composer was present and, impressed by her performance, dedicated his next work, the Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, to her. This sonata recording was a semi-private release and has always enjoyed important status, despite or because of its relative scarcity. She conveys the folkloric substratum very finely indeed, is confident in the first movement variations, and evokes Ca’ the yowes in the second movement with warmth and refinement. The fizz of the scherzo poses few problems and she clearly enjoys the unstuffy jazz laced finale. The sonics are perfectly reasonable for the time and have been adeptly engineered for this release. A fine salute to a much-admired musician.

The other disc – discs actually as there are two – is by Margaret Kitchin. Her recording of the revised Tippett Sonata is actually not dissimilar to Sellick’s. Timings are consistent, though clearly advantageous recording quality ensures that Kitchin’s performance is heard with far grater depth and colour and dynamic range. Eloquently controlled and digitally sure she too makes something valuable of the first movement variations – a shade wittier than Sellick, perhaps. She’s actually slower than Sellick in the slow movement; reflective and noble, and a rather different take on things. The finale is laced with verve and freshness.

Iain Hamilton’s Sonata was dedicated to Mátyás Seiber and first performed by Kitchi in February 1952. It opens in frank dissonance and some not inconsiderable chest-baring. But that’s deceptive as it subsequently embraces a wide variety of moods and plenty of virtuoso flourishes, and colours. The finale in particular has a strong sense of drama and form and plenty of visceral excitement – and these are elements that Kitchin supplies in droves.

Wordsworth’s Piano Sonata in D Minor is an earlier work, dating from 1939. It opens in gaunt fashion but reflective lyricism soon infiltrates the writing, chordally warm and pleasing. It does, from time to time, come to a plangent full stop but has enough changeability to alternate between vigour, self-assertion and a becalmed stasis. The slow movement has some moments of uneasy lyricism before a constantly alert finale, dancing like a quickstep, ends things decisively.

The Cheesecombe Suite dates from 1945. It opens in vertiginous but wholly tonal style and has its ‘darkling thrush’ moments. Cool and still and also vaguely watchful the Nocturne sits at its heart but there’s also a frantic Fughetta to end things – almost, it has to be said, in hysteria. The final piece is the surprisingly biting and gaunt Ballade.

Adherents of British piano music of the period will want to seek out Margaret Kitchin’s pioneering discs, as they will Sellick’s trail-blazing Tippett.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review of the Lyrita disc by Rob Barnett

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