About this Recording
8.570359 - ALWYN: Piano Music, Vol. 1
English  German 

William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Piano Music, Volume 1

 

Piano music featured prominently for the most part of Alwyn's composing career as he had a great love and understanding for the instrument and was himself no mean pianist, as is evidenced in the varying technical demands made on the pianist in the works included here. There are approximately 150 individual pieces for the piano with the earliest pieces dating from the 1920s, and concluding in the early 1960s with his final work for the instrument - Movements, which will be included on the second volume of the present series. There are also Two Intermezzi for two pianos, two Piano Concertos (8.557590) and a Sonatina for piano and orchestra, which sadly was never orchestrated, but exists in piano score. During the 1930s Alwyn was an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and in this capacity travelled abroad to examine in both Australia and Canada. He composed many educational pieces, some of which found their way onto the syllabus of the Associated Board and were subsequently published by them, with many other pieces in a similar vein for Oxford University Press. On this recording examples from both his educational and concert work are included with the following receiving their world première recordings: Cricketty Mill, Prelude and Fugue formed on an Indian Scale, Haze of Noon, Harvest Home, Fancy Free and April Morn.

The three-movement Sonata alla toccata was composed in London between February 1945 and June 1946. The title page of the original manuscript bears the heading 'Sonata' with the words 'alla toccata' having clearly been added later. Although composed during a period when Alwyn was experimenting with neoclassicism, the work is in essence romantic. The first movement begins majestically in C major in which the main idea of the whole work is stated. This then leads headlong into the toccata-style Allegro, making much use of cross-rhythms and accented notes, which is maintained throughout the movement. By contrast the second movement, an Andante in F major, is very simple in nature with bell-like repeated Fs appearing throughout, leading to a mysterious F minor conclusion. The final movement, marked Molto vivace, begins with a lively triplet idea that is maintained throughout much of the movement, incorporating once again those repeated Fs from the Andante and the use of cross-rhythms featured in the first movement. A broader theme provides the second subject, which develops more and more brilliantly before culminating in an extended re-statement of the opening Maestoso theme but, this time in the key of A flat, leading to a Presto furioso that brings the work to a dramatic conclusion. The Sonata alla toccata received its première in a BBC Home Service broadcast by Joan Davies on 30 July 1947.

The next two pieces, Green Hills and Cricketty Mill, were composed in 1935 and are dedicated to Alwyn's composer-pianist friend Hugo Anson. Both pieces were submitted to Oxford University Press for publication, but in the event only Green Hills was published, as Cricketty Mill was thought to be too difficult. As the titles imply both are nature poems. Green Hills, inhabiting very much the sound world of John Ireland, opens with a gentle theme that develops into a passionate middle section before returning calmly to the opening idea that subsequently dies away into infinity. The title Cricketty Mill refers to a small mill situated south west of Bisley Village in the Cotswolds, on the stream that flows down to join the Toadsmoor brook. Alwyn prefaces this evocative impressionist piece with a short poem of his own invention, which runs as follows:

Clear and anxious
Murmurs the stream
At Cricketty Mill
Under the hill
Hang dark shadows—-
——fairy haunts.

The air is hot
With busy sounds
And, always echoing,
Wedding Bells
Ripple in the Brook.

The short Prelude and Fugue formed on an Indian Scale was completed in March 1945. The scale in question is that of G major with the fourth and seventh notes omitted on the ascent. The serene melody of the Prelude played by the right hand is accompanied by soft chordal writing in the left hand and appears several times in varied form, maintaining the tranquil mood throughout. In contrast the lively Fugue, beginning with a strident theme announced in the left hand, exudes a joie d'esprit that is carried through to the final cadence.

Haze of Noon is one of several pieces published by Oxford University Press for their educational series under the editorship of A. Forbes Milne that appeared during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The piece was composed in 1925 and published in 1927. This dreamy and languid piece maintains its sultry mood throughout, conveying most vividly the warmth of the noonday sun as implied by the title.

The four short pieces that make up the collection entitled Harvest Home were published by Banks & Son Ltd of York in 1938 and are self-explanatory. Once again these pieces formed part of an educational series of piano music, which also included works by Thomas Dunhill, Alec Rowley and Felix Swinstead.

Both Fancy Free and April Morn comprise four short descriptive pieces, which were designed for educational purposes. The former was published by Oxford University Press and the latter by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. The pieces in Fancy Free were composed during 1926 and those for April Morn between 1924 and 1926. Even in these albeit simpler pieces Alwyn's creative composing skill never deserts him and he amply conveys the various moods with consummate skill.

The major work recorded here, Fantasy Waltzes, consisting of a suite of eleven virtuoso piano pieces, composed in London between June 1954 and April 1955, is arguably Alwyn's finest creation for piano solo. The obvious rôle models here are the waltzes of Chopin, Ravel and Johann Strauss. Alwyn, however, using the basic three-four rhythm with great variety and freedom of style, interprets the whole range of the waltz in his own inimitable way. The idea for the Fantasy Waltzes originated while Alwyn was on holiday in Norway after a visit to Grieg's lakeside home. The third piece of the set, intended as a homage to Grieg and indeed inhabiting very much the sound world of the Lyric Pieces, was the first to be composed. At the head of the autograph manuscript score to this piece Alwyn has written "At the Tomb of Grieg". Although conceived as a continuous cycle the suite does divide into two parts, Nos. 1-6 and Nos. 7-11, which encompass many moods from happy to sad, to the mysterious and funereal. The first part opens nostalgically and ends with the very rhythmic and joyous sixth waltz incorporating an expressive middle section. The seventh waltz, which opens the second part, is very subdued and mysterious exploring the chordal sonorities of the piano, invoking perhaps a funeral cortège with a doleful tolling bell. The eighth, ninth, and tenth are by turns light, dramatic and graceful. The eleventh is brilliant and light-hearted with a slower contrasting middle section that gradually gains momentum leading to a glittering finale. The Fantasy Waltzes are dedicated to the New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell, who gave the first performance of the work in a BBC Broadcast from Broadcasting House on 2 June 1957. Less than a year later, in May 1958, Farrell's promising career as a concert pianist was cut tragically short when he was killed in a car accident aged just 32. Alwyn admired Farrell's playing very much and must have been deeply affected by his death as he dedicated the fifth of his Twelve Preludes for piano to Farrell's memory.

Andrew Knowles
(with reference to William Alwyn's programme notes for the Sonata alla toccata and Fantasy Waltzes)

 


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