24 Preludes, Op.102 [selection of 10]
Suite Mignonne, Op.39 – Moto perpetuo
Toccata in A minor, Op.155
Piano Sonata in B, Op.19
Scherzo Fantastique, Op.26
Scherzo in A, Op.21
York Bowen (piano)
Franz Reizenstein (piano)
Recorded October 1958 (Reizenstein) and May 1960 in The Music Room, Burnham, Buckinghamshire
Reviewed by: Peter Joelson
Reviewed: September 2008
CD No: LYRITA REAM.2105
Duration: 93 minutes
Franz Reizenstein (1911-1968) may be described, as he has been, as a “Continental Briton”. A composition pupil of Hindemith in Germany, then Vaughan Williams in Britain, he also studied piano with Solomon. Although he arrived in Britain as early as 1934, he was interned for the duration of the war; post-war his career combined teaching at the Royal Academy of Music from 1958 and the Royal Manchester College from 1962 with giving recitals. Not included in this recorded selection are his Lambeth Walk Variations, a wonderful concoction.
The Sonata written during the war and dedicated to Walton is a substantial piece, combining strict architecture with a wide variety of moods and conceits. The piece opens with a dark introduction and moves on to a vivacious yet sometimes stormy Allegro vivace bold in rhythms and demanding of the performer. Reizenstein was a very accomplished pianist, recording all too little over the years.
The second movement is slow and peaceful, almost resigned, the major key keeping a flow of hope going. The finale combines a rondo form punctuated by fugato passages, the effect most captivating, and ends with a fanfare of optimism. This is an entirely satisfying work, accessible in its tonality and structure and is played here with complete authority by its composer.
Legend tells a singing tale, the legato writing quite fetching and in quite a contrast to the devilish Scherzo Fantastique following. This work requires fine technique to bring out the chromatic writing of the opening and close, and the more melodic middle section. Impromptu, written just before the outbreak of war, is quite charming in its simplicity. The recital concludes with Scherzo, bouncing and buoyant, using in the middle the effective conceit Britten and Holst used of two melodies played simultaneously.
York Bowen (1884-1961) had considerable success during his lifetime as composer, recitalist and teacher. After a period of neglect, there has been increasing interest in his compositions.
Bowen really doesn’t need to be known as “the English Rachmaninov” as his works are able to stand unsupported by such a description. His performance opens with ten of his 24 Preludes, written in 1938 and described by Khaikhosru Sorabji as “the finest English piano music written in our time”. Impetuous, light, lush, graceful and sometimes sombre, these works have become increasingly popular.
Bowen was a fine pianist, and though he was very much an older man when he set down these recordings, he had, it seems, lost little of his technique. The selection Bowen chose to record gives the listener much variety and includes the first and last included providing an excellent optimistic opening and triumphant close.
The Partita that follows is a very late work, from 1960, and nods in its style to Bach, the final ‘Gigue’ bouncing along with rollicking good humour, Bowen’s rich chromaticism adding to the recipe.
Berceuse (1928) follows with its deeply melodic writing, a companion here for the scherzo-like Moto Perpetuo. Another late work, Toccata from 1957, ends the recital with a big finish!
It’s a joy to welcome back these mono recordings Richard Itter made in The Music Room at his home in Burnham. Excellently re-mastered by Simon Gibson, they remain intimate and though recorded half-a-century ago still sound well. The two CDs is offered at budget price. A wonderful set!