Occasionally the Lyrita stable confounds one with an unlikely
sounding selection. Those versed in its extensive British catalogue
will already have seen the release of, say, some Hindemith and
swallowed hard. But now we get a real jolt. A disc of Poulenc,
maybe, (it’s only twenty-two miles across the Channel) but the
second disc in this two CD set unveils a cornucopia of rare
things; rare now, let alone rare for 1959 when these tracks
were set down.
The challenging interpreter is Elizabeth Powell who was born
in 1934 in Strasbourg and who is happily still active. She also
writes an invigorating note in the booklet, the musical side
of which is capably dealt with by Paul Conway. Powell came early
to England and studied with Leonie Gombrich – both were refugees.
It was from Gombrich that she first encountered Poulenc’s Trois
mouvements perpétuels, and at the age of sixteen she was
studying in Paris, where she met the composer and played to
him. The introduction was effected via Jacques Février, a good
friend, so her Poulenc credentials are strong, and the ambience
in which she moved at the time powerful.
The selection she plays, recorded in 1960, reveals her unsentimental
and acutely perceptive sense of directness. She is not quite
as dapper as her old friend Février in the Trois mouvements
perpétuels but she ensures that rhythmically things are
always on the move. She maintains a judicious balance between
overt and aloof sentiment in the Suite in C, all the while maintaining
elegance and precision. The Barcarolle from Napoli
drains away wittily, and she allows the Pastourelle to
take wing in a warmly textured way. The second of the Novelettes
is also winningly done – with a dash of Gallic insouciance –
and responds to the moods, reflections and intimations of the
Thème varié – the only post-War piece in this selection
– with a vivid sense of characterisation.
The second disc delves into more obscure waters. She met all
three composers whose music she plays here. Villa-Lobos’s Canto
brasileiro is a heady four movement piece written in 1936.
She keeps the left hand melody line directional in the opening
movement, whilst playing the dappled, sunlight-burnished right
hand lines with glinting precision. The sultry sway of the second
movement is augmented by melancholia as well as romantic reverie.
The toccata drama of the penultimate movement is augmented by
ecstatic bell chiming evocations. In the finale the percussive
demands are sometimes relentless, but she never takes the easy
way out. The Five Pieces from Guia pratico are character
studies, written over many years. The plangent Manquinha [No.74
– track 10] is a South American relative of All Through The
Night. Much less well known is Frutuoso Vianna whose Corta-jaca,
written in 1932, gives Powell carte blanche to exploit its samba-like
vitality and virtuosic patina. Francisco Mignone’s Dança
do Botocudo is engaging and sports a bracing chordal central
section whilst his sliver of a Sonatina embraces the communion
of popular song and, as with many of the pieces on this disc,
abounds in rhythmic licence.
The recordings were rather boxily recorded and nothing much
is going to change that. This was a fate of many of Lyrita’s
pioneering solo and chamber efforts of the time. But what an
unusual, unexpected and pleasant restoration this is!
see also review
by Bob Briggs