Seven Preludes Moeran
The White Mountain
Eric Parkin (piano)
Baines recorded May 1971 in Decca Studio No.3, West Hampstead, London; Moeran recorded April 1970 in St John’s, Smith Square, London
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.266 Duration: 79 minutes Reviewed: January 2008
Lyrita – William Baines & E. J. Moeran
Reviewed by Peter Joelson
In his short life, William Baines (1899-1922) wrote more than two hundred works, and while some are trite, about a quarter are worthy of close examination. Delicate in health from childhood, Baines followed his father in playing the piano for silent movies in Yorkshire, the home from which he rarely moved very far. He had an excellent technique as a performer – one singular foray from Yorkshire was a recital in Bournemouth at the invitation of Sir Dan Godfrey – and, as a composer, he wrote vocal and chamber music, a large symphony and a sizeable body of works for piano. The symphony was eventually performed by the Airedale Symphony Orchestra at the Grassington Festival in 1991 and needs a sympathetic record label to provide a wider audience with this young man’s work.
Most of the best of his piano-writing is collected on this CD. Some are impressions of the Yorkshire near his home in the West Riding. Paradise Gardens, the longest piece here, is a portrait of a golden sunset over York. 'The Lone Wreck' and 'Goodnight to Flamboro’', the two movements of Tides, are seascapes, the former with evocative arpeggios and a low E flat perhaps a foghorn moaning in vain as a ship had run aground. The latter gives an impression of a monochrome east coast at dusk, again with a gentle tide. More impressions are present in Twilight Pieces and Coloured Leaves, now evincing the feelings of Yorkshire woods and countryside.
Baines’s finest works bear comparison with those of Medtner, Scriabin and, as Roger Carpenter in his excellent booklet note suggests, Alkan. The Seven Preludes from 1919 make up, I think, a masterpiece. These short works are full of invention; from the serene and devotional to the passionate and energetic, Baines’s ideas went thick and fast from mind to paper.
Baines joined up in early 1918 and, though he survived illness during the influenza epidemic, died in 1922 from tuberculosis. Roger Carpenter wrote a monograph on William Baines; it is available through the British Music Society.
Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950) also saw military service during the First World War and was seriously injured. The piano works here are largely early, though the earliest of them was written at an age when Baines had been dead for four years. Moeran’s entire output for piano can just be squeezed onto a CD; the half-hour selection here originally appeared on an LP devoted to music for piano and cello and piano.
Much of the contents here include folksongs from Norfolk with a smattering from Ireland. On his return from war-service Moeran studied with John Ireland and some of the music shows his teacher’s inspiration.
Stalham River was written in Norfolk and is decidedly chromatic, evincing the feeling of water. The White Mountain is a short and relatively simple piece based on a folk-tune which many will recognise as that in the hymn-tune "Lord of all hopefulness". Toccata is a technically demanding tour-de-force; unusually for a toccata, it is marked legato. Bank Holiday is rather more light-hearted with an energetic rhythmic motif. Prelude and Berceuse are inspired with Norfolk tunes, while Two Legends evoke an Irish landscape.
Eric Parkin, who for many years has done so much to bring British piano-music to our attention, plays the programme here with great insight and faithfulness to each composer’s intentions. He was originally very well recorded by Lyrita and the tapes have been re-mastered very successfully for CD release. More modern and fuller collections are available from Priory PRCD550 (Baines) and Ismaron JMSCD2 (Moeran). However, as a very generous recital of works by Baines and Moeran on a single CD, this Lyrita collection can be recommended wholeheartedly.