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CD 1
Francis POULENC (1899 - 1963)
Trois mouvements perpetuels (1918) [6:01]
Suite in C (1920) [5:50]
Napoli (1925) [11:01]
Pastourelle (1927) [2:27]
Deux novelettes (1927/1928) [4:21]
Presto (1934) [1:51]
Thème varié (1951) [13:03]
Novelette sur un thème de M de Falla (c1959) [2:25]
CD 2
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887 -1959)
Ciclo brasileiro (1936) [19:40]
A Lenda do Cabocio (1920) [4:12]
Five Pieces from Guia pratico (1932 - 1949) [9:32]
Frutuoso VIANNA (1896 - 1976) Corta-jaca [4:04]
Francisco MIGNONE (1897 - 1986) Danca do Botocudo (1940) [3:18]
Sonatina No.4 (1949) [5:17]
Elizabeth Powell (piano)
rec. March and November 1959 (Brazilian works); December 1960 (Poulenc)
CD 2 is a re-issue of Lyrita RCS 22 and CD1 is receiving its first ever issue
LYRITA REAM 2111 [47:06 + 46:12]

Experience Classicsonline

Lyrita is known as a record company devoted entirely to British music. However, when it started in the late 1950s, it also made recordings of Hindemith and MacDowell. We also have the two LPs-worth re-issued here. Only the Brazilian music disc was ever issued. So here is a real treasure from the vaults of this always interesting company.

First of all, who is Elizabeth Powell? She was born in Strasbourg in 1934 and gave her first recital in Nancy in 1938! She was brought to England at the outbreak of war and in 1946 she appeared with the London Symphony and, two years later, was the first ever soloist with the newly formed National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. After 1949 she won an array of medals and prizes - Premiere Prix at the Paris Conservatoire, medallist at the Geneva International Piano Competition, the Harriet Cohen International Medal, the Lili Kraus Prize for Interpretation at the Rio de Janeiro Piano Competition and a finalist’s medal at the Busoni Competition in Bolzano, Italy. Throughout the 1960s she had a full performance schedule of both recital and concerto appearances and in 1970 moved to Australia where she was appointed to the teaching staff of the Sydney Conservatorium. There she became Head of the Keyboard department in 1986, a position she relinquished in 2004 in order to concentrate on performanmce and teaching.

And the music? I am at a loss to understand why this Poulenc disc was never issued, unless it was because the piano sound is very boxy and the overall sound is dry - but then most of these early Lyrita monos were made in a dry acoustic. The performances are very good, perhaps lacking the lightness of touch one might expect today from a pianist such as Pascal Rogé, but they are very serviceable, and the selection of pieces is very attractive. One thing I cannot sanction, however, is the excessively fast tempo for the first Mouvement Perpetuel.

The second CD has more in its favour, if only because the music is almost entirely unknown. Ciclo brasileiro is a four movement suite. The first is very impressionistic, the second a slow dance, with a huge climax in the middle and the finale is a moto perpetuo. The winner in this set is the third piece - Festa na Sertão - a wild picture of a carnival in full flow. It’s very exciting and rhythmically colourful, but, even with a playing time of a little under four minutes, I found it outstayed its welcome by being far too insistent and never stopping for breath. A Lenda do Cabocio is a very languid nocturne, with a marvellously laid-back feel. Guia pratico is, the notes in the booklet tell us, “a collection of 137 traditional songs, most of them children’s rounds common to several regions of Brazil”. The five pieces presented here comprise a quiet evocation of dawn, Full Tide shows brilliant flashes of colour as the water crashes onto the beach. A Rose-bush displays a very simple melody over a walking bass, whilst On the Strings of a Violin is far too pianistic to be an evocation, or even a demonstration, of its title - I wonder what Villa-Lobos really had in mind here? The final piece - Little Lame Girl - starts with a tune reminiscent of All Through the Night, then proceeds to elaborate it. It’s really lovely. Corta-jaca and Danca do Botocudo are especially lively dances, full of rhythm and colour, but it’s Mignone’s Sonatina No.4 which is the prize here. It’s concise, says what it has to then leaves. A brilliant piece - I want to hear more by this composer.

The recording is better on this Brazilian CD than the Poulenc, but it’s still dry and there’s precious little feel of the room in which it was recorded. There are better interpretations of the Poulenc available these days, but, for the sake of the Brazilian music this issue is well worth the outlay - even if the CDs do give very short measure in playing time.

Bob Briggs  

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