SOUNDSCAPES, April 1998
Among the more substantial works here, only the suite Kaleidoscope, Op 18 (composed in 1917-18) already figures in the catalogues played by Raphael Terroni on a British Music Society release, BMS 401. Generally serviceable, Terronis version seems rather four-square given Antony Grayspowerfully idiomatic flair for the fantastical and the pictorialist in these 12miniatures (plainly modelled on the childlike imagery of Schumanns Kinderszenen), and in the companion pieces Four Conceits, Op 20.
Goossens delight in ships, planes and particularly trains was well known. The former found musical expression in the three Ship preludes Op 42 (1924). Antony Gray has the true measure of this triptych, perhaps a pianistic foil to John Masefields famous lines in the poem Cargoes.
Turning to more eclectic and challenging works here, in particular the fiendishly challenging Nature Poems of 1919 (their dramaturgy recalls the final act of Ravels ballet Daphnis and Chloe), Grays technical assurance and expressivity are hugely impressive, and his gravely empathetic manner in the Homage to Paderewski, Goossens valediction for the Polish virtuoso surely would not be out of place in Chopin.
Both are estimable, thorough-going accounts, imbued with natural spontaneity, grace and gravitas, though it would be churlish to overlook Antony Gray'beguiling way with the slighter offerings here, notably the Two Studies, Op 38, and the Two Pieces Op 56. Incidentally, the first of the Op 38 Studies, 'Folk Tune' found its way onto an EMI recital disc by Richard Rodney Bennett recorded in 1975, though with this excellent ABC issue, most beautifully and atmospherically engineered, Antony Gray' diligent and captivating pianism surpasses all competition, and one can only hope that recordings of this calibre will occasion a revival of interest in Goossens piano music. Recommended.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Eugene Goossens did much to develop musical knowledge in Sydney, introducing works by Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. Sydney failed to return the favour, largely forgetting his music.
International Record Review
Reviewed by Robert Matthew Walker
When Malcolm Williamson, Master of the Queen's Music, died last year at the age of 71 his reputation had reached its lowest ebb. For several years prior to his death, Williamson's music was rarely heard - his seventieth birthday was ignored by the BBC Proms on 2001 - and whenever his name was mentioned it usually met either with incomprehension from younger music lovers, who barely had the opportunity of hearing his music, or with general disdain by those older folk who followed the usual media hostility which tended to attach to Wiliamson the man, and which therefore, illogically, attached to the quality of his music. Williamson lived life to the full, and sometimes beyond it; but his physical health could not always withstand the extreme pressure which he would place upon it. Yet those who remember with affection the man - who could be infuriating and adorable at the same time - and be neither with affectation - and who, for our present purposes, also remember his music, cannot but be moved at the spectacle of an incredibly gifted musician (a magnificent pianist and organist, as well as composer) who ended his days, incapacitated by a series of strokes, virtually forgotten by the musical establishment of which, as MQM, he was (and would have been, in different circumstances) the head.
When we come to the enormous body of music which Williamson
left (many of the later works, including symphonies and a fourth piano
concerto, await performance), we are confronted by an artist of astonishing
range and accomplishment. His opera Our Man in Havana remains without
question the most brilliant first opera (of 11) by (for the sake of
it, let's call this Australian-born) a British composer since Peter
Grimes; the premiere was a sensation, and the press were as one in
their praise; the large scale opera The Violins of St. Jacques equally
cries out for revival. His church music ranged from the overwhelming
Mass of Christ the King, premiered at Westminster Cathedral, to the
smallest unison versicles and responses; his orchestral music, concertos,
choral and vocal music, chamber music and so on - all exhibit his
natural fecundity, the breadth of his accomplishment and the quality
of his invention as a genuine master of music - whether these works
are for the use of queens or not.
Piano Sonatas Nos 1 - 4
The most important works here are the four Sonatas. The first was written at Britten's invitation for the Aldeburgh Festival, and was premiered there by the composer in 1956. It is an extremely well-written piece, a compact (11 minute) three-movement score that wears its (almost) half century lightly, and which exhibits brief influences of Stravinsky and (in layout) Hindemith. The second sonata of 1957, a memorial piece for Gerald Finzi, is a far tougher proposition; almost twice as long as its predecessor and intensely serious, it embodies melodic-chordal serial techniques with deeper underlying tonal principles. It is the most difficult of the sonatas with which to come to terms; older readers may recall the Pye Golden Guinea LP of No1 played by Peter Cooper, and the Argo issue of No 2, played by Williamson himself; Gray is at his most compelling here, especially in the extraordinarily fiery finale of No 2 - outplaying the composer. The third and fourth sonatas have a convoluted history: No3 dates from 1958 but was not first heard complete in its final form until 1993 (Gray tells the extraordinary story in his excellent notes), and No 4, eventually a two-movement work, was premiered in 1994. Williamson's initial combative temperament is here subsumed into a gentler, perhaps more ameliorative expression, but the virtuosity and finger dexterity required in the Finale of No 3 places it outside the realm of all but the most technically accomplished pianists (a pity, for the music is completely attractive - a set of 'reflections', as it were, on an initial idea). These scores are virtually unknown, but their quality is, surely, self-evident, and I trust that these excellent performances will engender the wide interest in them that the music deserves.
An unpublished masterpiece?
Of the other works, apart from the Travel Diaries, to which we shall return, the most interesting is the set of Variations (1954). This recording is the first performance for half a century; the work was written when Williamson was 23, a pupil of Elizabeth Lutyens, and is quite extraordinary for the time and place where it was written. In some respects, it is almost a fifth sonata (preceding the other four), and I simply cannot understand why the composer just 'put it away' - not withdrawing it. It is unpublished but should be printed immediately. It is a major addition to the repertory and receives a fine performance here.
There are two commemorative pieces in this collection, Ritual of Admiration, is a rather so-so work written for Elizabeth Lutyens's seventieth birthday, a somewhat anonymous homage to his one-time teacher, and Hymna Titu, written in memory of the Yugoslav President, Marshal Tito, whom - it appears - Williamson admired, and which was given its first performance by the composer at the Australian Legation in Belgrade in 1986, an event hardly guaranteed to endear him to Margaret Thatcher's Government of the day. Based on Yugoslav folk-music, it is a fascinatingly well-written study in terms of structural mastery - a branch of the craft in which this composer was usually considered deficient. We also have here the five books of teaching music, the Travel Diaries of 1960 - 61, and later sets, that The Bridge Van Gogh Painted and the French Camargue and Haifa Watercolours. These amount to a total of 69 miniatures in the seven suites. Although having known and played some of these over the years, I am rendered almost speechless when confronted - as here - by their astonishing technical and musical accomplishment. Why they are not in the syllabuses for every beginner of the piano, of every music college in the world, I simply do not know. The music is good enough to appear in professional recital programmes, as well as in scholastic examination sets. It is colourful, and the titles would attract even the least musical of young pianists to try them out, together with the Five Preludes, based on Wordsworth's sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge. These are more demanding technically, but share a late-Impressionistic impetus, and they reveal yet another facet of this astonishing composer's art. The recordings are excellent, and for Gray, this entire project has been an obvious labour of love which he has dispatched with considerable technical and artistic accomplishment. I cannot recommend this issue too strongly.
MCA Music Forum, Dec 2003
Reviewed by Mark Isaacs
During my high school and University years in the
1970s when I began to mix within the Sydney "new music"
scene as a budding composer I recall that the name of Australian composer
Malcolm Williamson was invariably invoked with a snigger of derision
by most of those whom I looked up to for guidance.
|Johannes Brahms: Piano pieces Op 116, 117, 118, 119.
Performed by Antony Gray
ABC Classics 476 6790
Grainger - 3 Pieces; Schumann - Etudes Symphoniques Op 13; Carmichael - Pastorale, Interlude and Toccata; Toovey - Little Music for Malcolm Williamson; Dussek - Sonata in G Op 45 no 2; Hindson - AK47; Poulenc - Intermezzo in D flat.
John Carmichael, Solo Flights, the complete piano music.
“It is so great to hear a modern composer who is not afraid of
John Carmichael was born in Melbourne and studied piano with Raymond Lambert and composition with Dorian Le Gallienne at the University Conservatorium. In Paris he worked with Marcel Ciampi. Contact with Arthur Benjamin led to a period of mentoring with him in London and after that composition studies with Anthony Milner.
Carmichael was a pioneer of music therapy working at the famous Stoke Mandeville and Netherden Mental hospitals. His time as Music Director of the Spanish dance company Eduardo Y Navarra and flamenco left us with the Concierto Folklórico . In 1980 James Galway premiered Carmichael's Phoenix , a flute concerto, at the Sydney Opera House. His Trumpet Concerto and Clarinet Concerto have been recorded by ASV and Dutton respectively. There is also an ABC disc of his chamber music including the Piano Quartet which gives the CD its title: Sea Changes . His most recent work is On the Green , for wind ensemble. This was first aired in London in September 2007. It celebrates “the green spaces of West London where the composer has lived for the last 40 years; it highlights the events which take place in these areas open to all to enjoy - open air music, fun fairs, children's games and care-free summer's days.”.
We now turn to the disc in hand.
When John Carmichael calls a suite of four short pieces Bravura Waltzes he is not joking. They really are bravura . The Nostalgic has a ‘grandissime' manner which recalls Medtner at his most rarely outgoing and his most touching. The Capricious is more feminine, mood-volatile and touching, with cross-currents from the Chopin Ballades. The Demonic rejoices at first in secret smiles rather than explosive coruscation but as it progresses (2:02) there are those landslides of notes we have might expected. Continuing the Russian immersion the Finale blazes its romantic trail with injections of fantasy from Ravel alongside the glories of the Russian keyboard.
Spider Song is more understated: gently accessible and bejewelled with a pearly tapestry to suggest the spider's ceaseless industry.
The Sonatine is in three movements one of which began life as a contribution to Malcolm Williamson 's 70th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall. There is an On a May Morning tenderness about this work with suggestions of John Ireland. After all Carmichael has spent most of his mature life as a UK resident. The finale is more redolent of Prokofiev and Suggestion Diabolique than Ireland although there may be something of Equinox about it and of his own impressive Bravura Waltzes .
The Bagatelle is pleasing and is his first published competition written in the year that saw the death of his teacher Arthur Benjamin.
The Latin-American Suite is bound to prompt recollections of the much later solo piano music of Lionel Sainsbury . It will be recalled that Carmichael wrote a Concierto Folklorico (piano and orchestra) and recorded it himself for ABC . The first of the three movements is a rumba and yes there are shards of the famous Arthur Benjamin work. Nevertheless this remains fresh and full of lively glinting fire and lights. After a seductive Habanera with deep dark waters comes the galloping Joropo which is redolent of Milhaud.
The early Damon Suite is unassuming, tonal-lyrical - that's a given with Carmichael - and easy on the ear without being bland. The Finzi-into-Rachmaninov Shadow Waltz is memorable for its grace and emotional range.
The Gestörter Traum is in the manner of Liszt. It was written for Liszt specialist Leslie Howard.
The four Hommages to twentieth century ikonic composers chart sympathetic territory for Gray. The de Falla suggests rather than parodies its object of passion. The Poulenc is a smiling essay which apes the manner but does so irresistibly. The Fauré is placid and aristocratic with some explosions of charging energy recalling the outer movements of the Piano Quartet No. 1. The Ravel again strikes the manner to a tee with the resource drawn on being the Rapsodie espagnole - again the suggestion not the explicit statement. These are works that register as liberation rather than in stifling thrall to the subject composer's music. So richly detailed are they that they struck me that one day Carmichael might be tempted to orchestrate them. They might very well work superbly in that format as they also do for solo piano. The Ravel Hommage is a fantastic triumph of the imagination and adroitly drawn duende .
The four movement suite From the Dark Side has a Secret Ceremony movement which must set us thinking, by title allusion, of Arthur Machen and John Ireland. Then comes Before Nightfall - a sense of obsession and undertow can be sensed here. The Elegy chimes slowly, recalling graves surrounded by cowled stone-watchers - sad in effect but beautiful in humanity's approximation to eternity. The final section is Dance with the Devil - 'lustful, malicious and threatening', says the composer.
The sound conjured by the always sensitive and challenging Antony Gray is lifelike and commanding. Gray has already given us unique ABC piano solo collections of Goossens and Williamson which complement Ian Munro's fine Arthur Benjamin piano recitals on Tall Poppies: vol. 1 ; vol. 2 . I do hope that Gray will one day record the Phantasy Piano Concertos by Goossens and Frank Hutchens with Benjamin's Concerto Quasi Una Fantasia .
Meantime this is a disc with an identity and a fascinating spell of its own. It would be impossible not to enjoy and to be stimulated by this music and by this playing.
'Gray lets the light shine through'
Programmes of contemporary music concerts often have
nothing in common except the fact that most of the pieces are new
or newish. Not this time
Review taken from 'Sun', Kuala Lumpur
"The shocker of the night had to be an Aussie. Antony Gray came in the place of his friend Jean-Bernard Marie, who had to cancel on a count of illness. The piece he played was called AK-47 (named after the Kalashnikov rifle), and composed by a young Australian composer named Matthew Hindson. It was loud, cacaphonic, anarchic, difficult, hammered, wild and vicious - and I loved it ! I later prevailed upon him to play it on the concert night, and he thinks that perhaps he might. Malaysian sensibilities be damned, this is heavy metal in coat tails and I cannot wait to hear it again."
Australian Financial Review - GREAT DISCS - Eugene Goossens - Kaleidoscope, Antony Gray, piano