Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp minor
Piano Sonata No.2 in G
Piano Sonata No.3 in G sharp minor
Piano Sonata No.4 in G
Concert Waltz in E flat
Two Russian Tone Pictures [Nocturne: May Night in the Ukraine; National Dance: Gopak]
The Princess’s Rose Garden
In a Vodka Shop
The Maiden with the Daffodil
A Mountain Mood
Dream in Exile (Intermezzo)
On a May Evening
The Slave Girl
What the Minstrel told us (Ballad)
O Dame get up and bake your pies
Iris Loveridge (piano)
Recorded between 1959 and 1963 in The Music Room, Burnham, Buckinghamshire, UK
Reviewed by: Peter Joelson
Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: LYRITA
REAM.3113 (3 CDs)
Duration: 3 hours 45 minutes
Iris Loveridge (1917-2000) had a long and fruitful career lasting until 1995. Much loved and respected as a performer, teacher and broadcaster, she played a good deal of 20th-century music by, among others, Medtner, Prokofiev, Falla, Turina and Albéniz. British composers with whom she was associated included Moeran and Bax, her recordings for Lyrita encouraging renewed interest in those composers in the 1960s.
Three Lyrita LPs were issued during the early 1960s; material for a fourth was recorded and has not been released until now, so this is the first appearance of several of the shorter pieces. This issue presents the works in chronological order, an arrangement that works very well.
Born in Streatham, London into a family of old Quaker stock, Arnold Bax (1883-1953) developed a great love for Ireland and Russia, both of which influenced some of his music. The First Piano Sonata was written in Russia in 1910 and follows the procedures of Liszt’s with a flavour of Balakirev. This fervent Romantic writing was to be a hallmark of Bax’s output; this Sonata was inspired by a doomed love-affair.
The Concert Valse that follows was written in 1910 for Myra Hess and was Bax’s first published work for piano. More Russian souvenirs are included on this first CD, including “In a Vodka Shop” with its rough dances in interesting rhythm. “The Maiden with a Daffodil” was written for Harriet Cohen in response to her appearing at a tea-party wearing a single daffodil; Bax wrote several such pieces for the women in his life, as easily it seems as others write a short letter. “Sleepy-head” from 1915 is the only piece Bax dedicated to his wife, although his long affair with Cohen had already begun. Toccata (1913) is a virtuoso showpiece dedicated to conductor and pianist Sir Hamilton Harty, whose playing in the 1930 recording of Constant Lambert’s “The Rio Grande” remains undimmed.
The second CD includes the Second Piano Sonata, a very fine work in one movement. The themes are rich and varied, stormy and calm, the writing making great demands on the pianist, Loveridge taking great care not to over-egg the mixture. The intimate sound of the recording from Richard Itter’s The Music Room lends itself to such intimate music. Winter Waters is a gloomy landscape, first performed by the young Cohen in one her earliest recitals. A couple of Irish souvenirs are included, too: Dream in Exile and On a May Evening evince a nostalgia for happier days. What the Minstrel told us has fierce climaxes that may hint at the Easter Rising in Dublin. Whirligig, also played magnificently here, is a wonderful encore piece, tremendously exciting.
More Russia-inspired pieces are included on the third CD, the first three written for a J. M. Barrie play “The Truth about the Russian Dancers”. “Ceremonial Dance” acts as the ‘overture’, full of Russian colour, Serpent Dance is more oriental in colour and Water Music is restful, cool and limpid. Contrast in mood comes with Lullaby, one of Bax’s best-known works for piano, and Burlesque is brimful of good humour. Another Bax favourite is Mediterranean, so perfumed with sights and smells and languorous in mood – so different from the Lisztian works of ten years earlier.
The Third Sonata, like the Second, was dedicated to Cohen, but this time abandons the single-movement structure in favour of three. Beautifully constructed it bears repeated listening for its structure to become clear; the interaction of the material is masterly, Loveridge having a very clear view of the work. The Fourth Sonata is another forcefully Romantic work, with triumphal colours and a middle movement of dragonfly hue. The grand gestures come over very well despite the intimate acoustic.
Paean (Passacaglia) was published in 1929, Bax determined it should be his last work for solo piano, though he would write a few more small pieces and the Fourth Sonata. Big and bold and triumphal, Paean occurs in an orchestral form, too, and is very effective indeed. A single post-war piece concludes this collection, O Dame get up and bake your pies, a brief and witty work dating from the end of 1945.
Iris Loveridge’s recordings are welcomed enthusiastically, some, as mentioned earlier, appearing for the first time. She has the structure of each work on a tight rein, a structure easily lost in other hands which can make Bax’s work seem undisciplined.
Simon Gibson has, as ever, re-mastered the recordings to sound very well; although mono and somewhat dated at first hearing, the ear quickly becomes beguiled by Loveridge’s loyal and deep interpretations.