There can never be too many Billy Mayerl recitals as far as
I’m concerned and it’s good to see that this is an inaugural
volume of a new, and one hopes extensive series from Somm. At the helm is
the Irish pianist Philip Martin, something of a hero of the Gottschalk
discography and a man who, I remember, earned Malcolm Arnold’s
Martin’s view of Mayerl is unusually mellow and his tempi
largely quite slow; certainly they are slower than Mayerl’s own -
whose aren’t? - but they are also slower, in the main, and sometimes
significantly slower, than Susan Tomes on Virgin, Leslie De’Ath on Dutton Epoch
, and Eric Parkin, an indefatigable exponent of
Mayerl, whose recordings on Chandos and also Shellwood I’ve admired
for years. This tempo question can initially bring one up with a jolt.
My hunch is that Martin is more interested in pointing up
Mayerl’s harmonic writing, and that he is intent on pursuing the more
veiled impressionism that does indeed lie at the heart of some of
Mayerl’s music - that and Gershwin and Rachmaninovian impulses. The
former is not surprising since Mayerl famously gave the first British
performance of Rhapsody in Blue.
Maybe too he is more concerned to
situate Mayerl in a specifically English school of pianism, and thus is
resistant to overstate Mayerl as the galvanic syncopator.
Certainly, Evening Primrose
is a lovely confection but
it’s considerably peppier and style-conscious under Parkin’s
fingers. De’Ath splits the difference, timings-wise, half way between
Parkin and Martin and strikes a good compromise. Marigold
Mayerl favourite and again we find Martin a sympathetic and affectionate
player though one who resists speed-as-drama. He takes the 1938 From a
as slowly as I’ve ever heard it taken - a
reflective, introspective approach.
I daresay Martin could play as fast as anyone if he so wished, but
he clearly doesn’t wish, as is graphically shown in Railroad
, Mayerl’s tribute to the Coronation Scot. This isn’t
the occasion for a 100mph, smoke-billowing jaunt, more a question of taking
in the view from the carriage window; harmonies are certainly pointed, but
somewhat at the risk of turning the gleaming engine down a branch line.
Attention to textual detail, concern for voice leading, and measured
tempi are very much Martin’s way throughout this recital. His
is justly melancholic. The Harp of the Winds
is pensive with its impressionism strongly to the fore. Martin seems closely
attuned to the dappled Willow Moss
, the first of the Aquarium
Suite, where the prism of Debussy and Rachmaninov is notable. Maybe he finds
something here, a specific lineage that other pianists are apt to overlook.
It’s good that he intersperses some great favourites with three of the
less well-known suites; Aquarium, Puppet and Three Contrasts. He brings out
bluesy hues in Judy,
the second of the three pieces that make up the
Suite, He characterises the Three Contrasts
though the final Fiddle Dance
lacks a bit of insouciance. So, sadly,
does the final piece in this recital, Robots
. The dynamic modernity
of this is far better conveyed by Parkin. It’s a shame that Martin,
fine player though he is, seems so reluctant sometimes to drive on, but as I
say, he clearly has his reasons.
The recording is well judged. It’s not as warm as those for
Parkin or Tomes which perhaps gives a glint to Martin’s tone.
I respect what he is doing, if I have interpreted him correctly, but the
pianists cited seem to me to convey the thrills and excitement of Mayerl