“Delius and his Circle” – [TrackList follows] – Paul Guinery, piano – Stone Records JEHAN ALAIN: Works for Piano [TrackList follows] – Jean Dubé, piano – Surius

by | Jun 17, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

“Delius and his Circle” – [TrackList follows] – Paul Guinery, piano – Stone Records 5060192780130 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
JEHAN ALAIN: Works for Piano [TrackList follows] – Jean Dubé, piano – Surius SYR 1141447 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
The first of these immediately attracted me for its unique grouping together of piano music of Delius and nine of his composer friends who composed for the piano. Delius was did not focus on the piano, being a violinist, and in fact most of his friends were not musicians but artists, and writers. These composers were certainly an interesting bunch, with such standouts as the exuberant Percy Grainger and Peter Warlock; they all contributed in various ways to English piano music, and accepted the increasingly cantankerous Delius as he aged and was more and more wracked by the ravages of his advanced syphilis.
The disc opens with five seldom heard short piano pieces by Delius himself. The last is his Dance for Harpsichord, which the note-writer claims may be the most unplayable piece ever written for the harpsichord.  I don’t agree, but it does sound OK on the piano. (He was charmed into writing it by a lady who was a harpsichordist in London and held musical salons.)
A few of the other composers I was unfamiliar with. Roger Quilter was mainly known for his songs, but also wrote much piano music in a sort of charming and flowing style not dissimilar to Delius. We hear four of his works. Moeran’s three works are standouts on the CD; he shared a cottage for a time with the wild and often drunken Philip Heseltine/Peter Warlock—the latter represented by five preludes based on folk songs—not that different from many of the piano pieces of Percy Grainger.  Cyril Scott is represented here by his huge hit, Lotus Land. He was one of the many English composers living in France, like Delius, and the languorous and hypnotic mood of his piano piece makes it a classic that stands out on any piano program on which it appears. The closing piece is by Henry Gardiner, who Delius’ amanuensis Eric Fenby said was one of the few people Delius “trusted implicitly.”  He had purchased the house where Delius was living and give him free tenancy for life. His piece Mere is named after a village on the edge of Salisbury Plain which Gardiner would often visit. The Delius Society and pianist Guinery should be thanked for assembling this delightful CD.

  1. Delius: Three preludes – Scherzando
  2. Delius: Three preludes – Quick
  3. Delius: Three preludes – Con moto
  4. Delius: Intermezzo from Hassan
  5. Delius: Valse
  6. Delius: Reverie
  7. Delius: Dance for harpsichord
  8. Quilter: Dance in the twilight
  9. Quilter: Shepherd song
  10. Quilter: Rosamund
  11. Quilter: Pipe and tabor
  12. Scott: Lotus land
  13. Austin: The enchanted palace – The princess sings
  14. Austin: The enchanted palace – The princess dances
  15. Bax: The maiden with the daffodil
  16. Grainger: The merry king
  17. Moeran: Irish love song
  18. Moeran: Summer valley
  19. Moeran: Bank holiday
  20. O’Neill: Carillon
  21. Warlock: Five folk-song preludes – Very slow
  22. Warlock: Five folk-song preludes – Allegretto, rubato
  23. Warlock: Five folk-song preludes – Maestoso; alla marcia funebre
  24. Warlock: Five folk-song preludes – Fairly slow but evenly flowing, in strict time
  25. Warlock: Five folk-song preludes – Largo maestoso
  26. Gardiner: Mere

Jehan Alain was one of those several composers who died young and there has been conjecture about what he would have contributed to music had he been gifted with a normal life span. He lived only 29 years, perishing tragically in the early years of WWII in 1940. Alain is best known for his pipe organ works, especially the Litanies. But he also wrote a number of piano works during his years in the Conservatory.
26 of them are heard on this CD, some of which existed in both piano and organ versions. Alain studied with Paul Dukas, Jean-Roger Ducasse and Marcel Dupré, but developed a unique sound which blended the Debussy/Ravel impressionist school with astringent harmonies coming from Bartok and Stravinsky. His music has a calmness to most of it, sometimes reduced to a lean simplistic style almost like Satie.
Many of the 26 works have a sort of melancholy quietude about them, though the Ecce ancilla Domini gets more cheerful-sounding, as well as the Etude on Double Notes. Tracks 14 and 16 show that Alain is clearly not one who strove for short titles to his pieces; though both are under two minutes length, the latter, for example, is: Comme quoi les projects les plus belliqueux finissent souvent par un baillement on une promenade en barque. The recital concludes with Alain’s best-known piano work, his Suite monodique – eight movements running eight-and-one-half minutes.
1. Choral dorien for Organ, AWV 75
2. Prélude Profane for Organ no 1, AWV 57
3. Deuxième Prélude profane, for organ or piano (“Und Jetzt”), JA 65 (AWV 58)
4. Choral, for organ (Suite for organ No. 3), JA 82
5. Etude de sonorité sur une double pédale, for piano, JA 7
6. Romance, for organ or piano (Trois minutes No. 2), JA 31 (AWV 34)
7. Nocturne, for piano, JA 76 (AWV 78)
8. Final pour une sonatine facile, for piano (Suite facile No. 1), JA 92
9. Barcarolle, for piano (Suite facile No. 2), JA 93
10. Ecce ancilla Domini, for piano, JA 4 (AWV 4)
11. Etude sur les double notes, for piano, JA 10 (AWV 15)
12. Prélude, for piano, JA 87 (AWV 88)
13. Lumière qui tombe d’un vasistas, for piano, JA 11 (AWV 20)
14. Histoire d’un homme qui jouait de la trompette dans le forêt vierge, for piano, JA 59 (AWV 69)
15. Il pleuvra toute la journée, for piano, JA 41 (AWV 42)
16. Comme quoi les projects les plus belliqueux finissent souvent par un baîlement ou une promenade en barque
17. Nocturne, soir du 22 août 31, for piano, JA 19 (AWV 24)
18. Chanson triste, for piano, JA 8 (AWV 7)
19. Petite rhapsodie, for piano, JA 12 (AWV 17)
20. Etude sur un thème de quatre notes, for piano, JA 3 (AWV 6)
21. Dans le rêve laissé par la Ballade des pendus de François Villon, for piano, JA 24 (AWV 27)
22. Tarass Boulba, for piano, JA 91 (AWV 90)
23. Andante, for piano, JA 81 (AWV 60)
24. Lettre à son amie Lola pour la consoler d’avoir attrapé le grippe, for piano, JA 129
25. Work(s): Un spécimen d’harmnies consantes
26. Suite monodique, for piano, JA 80, 89, 116 (AWV 65)
—John Sunier

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