Despite the Scottish origin of much of the material on this CD, the early-Romantic Irish composer William Vincent Wallace is not to be confused with his early 20th century Scottish namesake, William Wallace (1860-1940), a composer best known for his eponymous symphonic poem about the most famous William Wallace of all. In fact, according to musicologist Jeremy Dibble, this one generally went by the name of Vincent Wallace.
Ironically, Naxos have yet to publish any recordings of the music of the Scottish Wallace although Hyperion
have. As if to compensate Naxos have now devoted a generous five releases to the Irish Wallace. Following on from two of the operas for which he is better known - Lurline
) and Maritana
) - the present is the middle of three recent releases of piano music, each starring Rosemary Tuck and Richard Bonynge. The first was a selection of opera fantasies and paraphrases (8.572774, reviews
), the latest a collection of Chopin-style pieces (8.572776, review
). Issued in 2012, the last two releases celebrate the bicentenary of Wallace's birth.
According to Peter Jaggard's booklet notes, Wallace, a proud 'Celt' from a family steeped in folk music, published more than fifty piano works inspired by the Irish and Scottish traditions. His fantasies brought him the anticipated financial success - they were composed with the domestic market in mind, a number being within reach of the competent amateur.
The pieces mostly have the same format: three to five minutes of music, a prefatory glissando-rich flourish followed by some carefully thought-out 'improvisations' on the original material, which, following Irish and Scottish tradition, often consists of two skilfully conjoined items. Wallace avoids sentimentality, demonstrating instead a sense of modesty - or Celtic lack of self-importance! - that might have struck his contemporary Liszt as rather quaint.
Though no one could deny the craftsmanship and mellifluousness of Wallace's Fantasies - reminiscent of Donizetti's piano pieces (see review
) - folk purists may nevertheless remain relatively unmoved by his treatment of what is, after all, basically fiddle music - tunes to dance to, mainly. His arrangements may occasionally set the foot tapping, but they are more likely to encourage the singing of the original airs than anything more terpsichorean. Rather like Jordi Savall's two recent 'Celtic Viol' albums for Alia Vox, this one is probably best taken in smaller measures, otherwise some of the brilliance may pale and the subtleties be lost.
That is no comment on Rosemary Tuck's fine musicianship - she treats all these pieces with respect, but also in a way that accords with Wallace's understated humour. Tuck is a practised hand at performing Wallace, and has actually been recording his music for at least a decade, with two previous Cala CDs - the first of which was even subtitled 'Celtic Fantasies' (CACD 88042
). Incidentally, she is from Australia, a country Wallace not only lived in for two years, but one he gave its first music academy and festival.
It is not clear whether the title 'Celtic Fantasies' is Wallace's or not, but certainly one tune, Home Sweet Home
, is about as 'Celtic' as Amazing Grace
. There are a couple of minor errors in the Scots titles, although it is hard to say whether Wallace, his publishers or Naxos are to blame. At any rate, there is no apostrophe at the end of 'awa' or 'noddin' - to a speaker of Scots, no consonant has been dropped. On the other hand, the common mistake of adding an apostrophe (against sense) after the first 'a' in the famous Burns song 'Scots Wha Hae' has been avoided. There's Nae Luck About This House
is not the correct title - it should be 'There's Nae Luck About The House' (or 'Aboot the Hoose').
It would be wrong to describe audio quality here as immaculate - the piano has a slightly muffled sound to it, and the action is often audible - but it is perfectly acceptable. The only real quibble is the fact that all the tracks have had final reverberations cut a fraction of a second too quickly.
The notes give a reasonable biography of Wallace, plus a few lines of detail on the origins of his musical material. For some reason Richard Bonynge receives equal billing with Rosemary Tuck on the front cover, for playing secondo on one track - nice work if you can get it!
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Craftsmanship and mellifluousness.