This recent release by Duncan Honeybourne on the EMR label makes a persuasive and highly listenable case for lesser-known English composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Recorded in August 2020 at Potton Hall, between lockdowns, as it were, Duncan Honeybourne, by his own admission, feels this is his best work to date. While many of us chafed at the enforced isolation and restrictions, Honeybourne has used the time extremely productively (he has also just released a recording of piano music by the late John Joubert – more here). Freed from a busy concert schedule, Honeybourne has welcomed the opportunity to “reconnect” with the piano and really immerse himself in the repertoire he most enjoys and loves.

A champion of lesser-known English piano music, Honeybourne’s affection for and understanding of the pieces on this disc is evident throughout in performances which reveal an acute appreciation of the wide variety of styles, moods and textures of this repertoire. The result is a generous 2-disc album which contains no less than eight world premiere recordings of works by Christopher Edmunds, Edgar Bainton, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, and Richard Pantcheff.

The title of the disc is taken from Psalm 103 (“out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord“), appropriately for the three substantial piano sonatas which frame the complete programme – from Edmunds’ big boned, luxuriantly romantic piano sonata, composed in 1938, with its nods to Liszt and Rachmaninoff in both its scale and breadth of expression, to the Bridge sonata written in the aftermath of the First World War – a work of utter desolation which calls out for reconciliation and forgiveness in a world torn apart by conflict, and Richard Pantcheff’s Sonata of 2017, written for Duncan Honeybourne, which although divided by almost a century, shares the dark, brooding emotional bleakness of Bridge’s work. Honeybourne captures the intensity and range of sentiment in these three sonatas and does not shy away from bravura virtuosity in the first movement of the Edmunds Sonata, which opens the album with its vivid first statements offset in the middle movement by a melting tenderness and warmth.

These substantial, dramatic works are complemented and contextualised by shorter works, mostly pastoral in theme, poetic and rhapsodic in nature, and lyrically presented by Honeybourne. Hubert Parry’s delightful ‘Shulbrede Tunes’ are affectionate, sometimes wistful portraits of the composer’s family and their Sussex home; Bainton’s ‘Willows’ and ‘The Making of the Nightingale’ are contemporary with Bridge’s Sonata, tender and evocative pastoral pieces; while Pantcheff’s Nocturnus V: Wind oor die Branders evokes the wind on the waves in his native South Africa. Another nocturne,  Britten’s atmospheric ‘Night Piece’ portrays nighttime scurryings and chirrups.

Friendships and teacher-pupil relationships connect the selection of pieces on this album: Frank Bridge taught Benjamin Britten, who in his later years mentored Richard Pantcheff. Honeybourne studied Britten’s Night Piece with Dame Fanny Waterman, founder of the Leeds International Piano Competition, for which the nocturne was commissioned as a test piece.

This is engaging collection of distinctive and diverse piano music offers listeners the opportunity to explore some stunning, lesser-known gems of the repertoire

emr-cd070-71Of the recording, Honeybourne says: “It was a joy to devise this programme, featuring some masterpieces I’ve known for a long time and love dearly, alongside the stunning Pantcheff Sonata, which I premiered in 2019 in London at an English Music Festival concert. It is a special privilege to present the recorded premieres of some terrific pieces that have languished in manuscript for many decades, and I hope listeners will get as much pleasure from hearing these wonderful gems as I have from all the excavation and preparation. It’s a great honour to bring them all together on this release.”

De Clamavi Profundis is released on the EM Records label.

Recommended


ELGAR’S REVELATORY PIANO TRANSCRIPTION OF THE ‘ENIGMA VARIATIONS’

in a new album with

RARE CHAMBER WORKS BY BRITISH 20TH-CENTURY COMPOSERS

ENIGMAS: Solo piano and chamber works

by Elgar, Leighton, Rubbra, Bowen and Sackman

Performed by acclaimed young artists:

ELSPETH WYLLIE piano

solo and chamber recitalist, appearances at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, and for BBC Radio Scotland

CLAIRE OVERBURY flute 

guest player with Britten Sinfonia, the RPO, and the Hallé Orchestra

HETTI PRICE cello

appearances at the Southbank Centre and on BBC Radio 3 In Tune

ALEXA BEATTIE viola 

guest player with Munich Chamber Orchestra, ensemble appearances with Lisa Batiashvili and Kim Kashkashian

CATHERINE BACKHOUSE mezzo-soprano 

Britten Pears Young Artist 2015, solo appearances with Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Garsington Opera

To coincide with Elgar’s 160th birthday on 2nd of June 2017, Divine Art is releasing a recital recording of solo piano and chamber works, featuring Elgar’s own solo piano transcription of his much-loved Enigma Variations.  Elgar originally extemporised and sketched out the music at the piano, and his transcription highlights the intimate nature of a work inspired by friends and acquaintances.

This is complemented by a varied collection of masterful repertoire by British composers. Edwin York Bowen’s Sonata for flute and piano is well-known to flautists and Kenneth Leighton’s Elegy is familiar to many cellists – both works deserve to be more widely-known as staples of post-romantic concert repertoire. Edmund Rubbra’s Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for trio are exquisite, essential listening, and this is the first modern-day recording with a mezzo – as Rubbra intended. Finally, a premiere recording of Nicholas Sackman’s Folio I for solo piano, a lively suite originally written for his family.

Recording release date: 19 May 2017

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A SAMPLE TRACK

LIST OF WORKS:

EDWARD ELGAR – Enigma Variations, Op.36 (composer’s own piano transcription)

KENNETH LEIGHTON – Elegy for cello and piano

EDWIN YORK BOWEN – Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120

NICHOLAS SACKMAN – Folio I for solo piano  *premiere recording*

EDMUND RUBBRA – Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for medium voice, viola and piano Op.87

ENIGMAS Solo piano and chamber works (Divine Art catalogue no. DDA 25145)

CDs available to pre-order:  www.elspethwyllie.co.uk/enigmas-cd/

Digital format available 19 May: www.divineartrecords.com

For further information please contact:

Kathryn Marshall (Divine Art) – Kathryn@divineartrecords.com

Elspeth Wyllie (performer) – 07878 411300

This week I returned to the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park with my friend and pianist colleague Elspeth Wyllie, to see and play a square piano which had belonged to Elgar. Elspeth has been working on and performing Elgar’s own transcription for piano of his Enigma Variations and so the visit was part curiosity (on both our parts) and part research.

The first thing which struck us on being shown the piano is its very small size, and the delicate strings and hammers. Examining this tiny piano, it was easy to imagine it in a room in the composer’s cottage in Great Malvern. The piano came into the possession of Edward Elgar’s father and uncle who together ran a piano business in Worcester, and Elgar chose it from his father’s stock. He inscribed on the soundboard the names of some of the works he composed on it, including ‘Caractacus’ and ‘Sea Pictures’. The Enigma Variations were composed in 1898-99: of course we don’t know if Elgar used this piano to work on the Variations, but in any case, the experience of playing his music on his piano was most enlightening and very touching, for both of us.

Despite its size, the piano has a remarkably colourful voice and a rich bass. In the treble there are string quartet sonorities which brought a wonderful vibrancy to the music and revealed strands of melody, sub-melody and accompaniment which are sometimes lost in the lush resonance of a modern grand piano.

Hear Elgar’s Broadwood here:

 

More about The Cobbe Collection

An earlier post about the ‘Chopin’ pianos at the Cobbe Collection