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Blue Clavichord
Peter DICKINSON (b.1934)
Suite for the Centenary of Lord Berners
for Clavichord (1983) [12:42]
Alan RIDOUT (1934-1996)
Suite for Clavichord
(1960) [9:40]
Variations on a French Folk Song
for Harpsichord (1957) [8:01]
Jeremy Dale ROBERTS (b.1934)
for Recorder and Piano (1958/2012) [1.52]
Pastorale, Blues and Homage
for recorder and piano: A James Joyce Pastorale (1955/2012) [1.41]; A Robert Burns Blues (1967/2012) [3.32]; Homage to Poulenc (1963/2008) [2.46]
Bach in Blue for violin, clarinet and piano (2004/2012) [6.05]
Five Diversions for Clavichord (1963) [9:37]
Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008)
, Op. 18, for Clavichord (1959-63) [10:12]
Duke ELLINGTON (1899-1974)
Five Songs
(arr. Peter Dickinson for clavichord): In A Sentimental Mood (1935) [2.27]; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (1942) [2.06]; Prelude To A Kiss (1938) [2.49]; Sophisticated Lady (1932) [2.42]; It Don’t Mean A Thing (1932) [1.41]
The Verdehr Trio (Walter Verdehr (violin), Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (clarinet), Silvia Roederer (piano)), Jane Chapman (harpsichord), John Turner (recorder), Peter Dickinson (piano, clavichord)
rec. 10 November 2012, Blue Griffin Records Studio; 7 October 2012, Potton Hall, Suffolk

This is a quirky album: I do not believe that the performers and producers of this CD would reject that description. When it landed on my doorstep, I wondered just what to make of it. If I am honest, I was tempted not to review it - I wondered what on earth I could say about it. However, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. This is a captivating exploration of some interesting musical byways typically arranged or devised for clavichord, but also featuring harpsichord, piano, recorder, violin and clarinet. I have come to realise that the clavichord can be just as effective in the performance of ‘contemporary’ music as it is of Bach.
Peter Dickinson’s first offering on this CD is the ‘Suite for the Centenary of Lord Berners’ for clavichord. The composer Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners (1883 -1950), was wholly unconventional; he was also an accomplished composer, artist, novelist, man of letters and aesthete. The music used in this suite was originally intended for a TV adaptation of H.E. Bates’ short story ‘A Great Day for Bonzo’. There are six delightful movements: Blues, Jig, March, Dirge, Waltz and a final Blues. I wondered if it would work better on the piano; on reflection I consider that the clavichord is the perfect vehicle for this idiosyncratic music. I loved every bar, especially the ‘waltz’. Interestingly, Dickinson has written an important documentary study of Lord Berners, which is essential reading for anyone wishing to come terms with this charismatic man.
Alan Ridout is not well-represented in the CD catalogues - this in spite of the fact that he was a prolific composer who wrote music in most genres. He was able to pitch his compositions towards both professional and amateur musicians. The first Ridout piece I heard was his ‘Concertante Music’ which featured on an old LP recorded by the Leicestershire School Orchestra. The present Suite for clavichord (1960) is written in five unnamed movements. It is lively, subtle, approachable and totally enjoyable.
Peter Dickinson’s ‘Variations on a French Folk Song’ (1957) for harpsichord is the most challenging and in many ways the most important work here. It is based on the well-loved folk song ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’. The theme is followed by eight diverse variations that explore aspects of the deconstructed theme. There is humour, excitement and reflection present in these variations: the finale is a ‘warhorse’. It is possibly the best ‘contemporary’ work for harpsichord that I have heard. Certainly it is the masterpiece in this line-up. It was dedicated to the Cambridge harpsichordist Mary Potts (1905-1982).
Jeremy Dale Roberts ‘Hymn’ for recorder and piano was originally conceived as far back as 1958. It was the final movement of a ‘Suite’ for flute and strings composed for the Newbury String Players. The composer arranged it in its present form in 2012. It is quite an attractive little number but is way too short and monochrome as a standalone piece and I look forward to hearing it in its original guise.
The mood of the ‘Pastorale, Blues and Homage’ is totally different in character to the Dickinson’s ‘variations’. I am not quite sure what the composition history is, but I believe that it can trace its way back to two songs and a piano piece written in the ’fifties and ’sixties. These have been arranged for recorder and piano. The final ‘Homage to Poulenc’ was one of the composer’s ‘Five Forgeries’ written for piano. The first number is called ‘A James Joyce Pastorale' based on a setting of ‘Strings in the earth and the air’ and the second is ‘A Robert Burns Blues’ to the words of ‘My love is like a red, red rose’.
‘Bach in Blue’ is a fine example of Peter Dickinson’s skill at writing pastiche - it does exactly what it says on the tin - Bach with a large dose of the ‘blues’. The work, for piano solo, was completed in 2004 and was presented to Michael Berkeley in honour of his tenth and final season as Director of the Cheltenham Festival. The present version for violin, clarinet and piano was made in 2012. My only concern is that the violin dominates the proceedings - it is quite overpowering, where I believe it ought to be sultry.
I did not know that the Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott wrote music for the clavichord. However he achieved success in a huge variety of genres, so it is no surprise that this attractive little Sonatina (1959-63) is a gem. The work, which can also be played on the piano, is dedicated to the musicologist, conductor and keyboard player Thurston Dart (1921-1971). This miniature is no ‘teaching piece’: the title simply defines the relatively short length of the movements rather than the musical content.
I have come across Dickinson’s ‘Five Diversions’ for clavichord before - in another incarnation. They were included on the Naxos release (8.572654) of his piano music. I felt then that these were rather more challenging than diverting. They provide an excellent balance of fun, humour and reflection. Their performance on the clavichord lends them an almost timeless air. The Prelude, Aria, Ragtime, Sarabande and finale were all composed in 1963.
The work that I enjoyed most on this lovably eccentric CD was Peter Dickinson’s excellent, moody arrangements of five well-known songs by Duke Ellington. I guess that these tunes have been arranged for every possible combination of instrument. My personal preference is for piano or cinema organ. However, these tunes are ideal material for the clavichord. The intimacy of the instrument lends a certain magic to these songs denied to other forces. They would make an ideal encore at any clavichord recital.
The presentation of all these works is convincing and committed. The liner-notes by Peter Dickinson are ideal and the sound quality is excellent. My only word of warning is to explore these great works carefully: it can be quite difficult to appreciate everything at one sitting. Typically, they deserve to be approached with thought and care.
John France