UNA MABEL BOURNE
Bourne was already a child prodigy by the age of four, at which point her family moved to Melbourne where she received lessons from Benno Scherek. By the age of ten she was playing concertos with orchestra. She then began touring, but in 1905 she went to Europe to study, making her London debut in October of the following year. ‘Miss Bourne has a beautiful touch, especially for the softer and mezzoforte passages, and plays with a great deal of ease and fluency; her runs and shakes and rapid scale passages in such things as the ‘Appassionata’ Sonata or the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue come off very well, and, though her broad, sustained tone is not quite so good and her rhythm at times is a little uncertain, yet she plays without any affectation or exaggeration, and quite gives the impression of being a musician.’ (The Times)
Before World War I Bourne toured with fellow Australian Dame Nellie Melba. They gave joint concerts, within which Bourne would also perform solo piano works. During the war Bourne gave many recitals in London for charity and the war effort, but thereafter her career was mainly in America and Australia. She gave further charity concerts in Australia during World War II and remained there after 1939. She established a school of piano playing at the Albert Street Conservatorium in Melbourne and spent the rest of her career teaching, as well as occasionally giving concerts and broadcasting.
Bourne recorded for HMV in London and appeared on their less expensive, popular plum label. Her first recording was made in 1914: a disc of her own compositions Caprice and Petite Caprice Valse. This was followed a year later by a similar disc, containing her Cradle Song and Little Song. Most of Bourne’s recordings are of popular encores and lighter classics: many works by Chaminade, with whom she studied, as well as pieces by Paderewski, Scharwenka, Smetana, Cyril Scott, Sinding and Sydney Smith. Because of this her reputation today is not high, even though she also recorded short pieces by Granados, Albéniz and Grieg. In fact, nearly all her recordings were made acoustically, and amongst these there exist Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15, paraphrases by Liszt of Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Entry of the Guests from Tannhäuser, the Spinning Song from Der fliegende Holländer and Verdi’s Rigoletto. These prove Bourne to be competent, but no virtuoso. She often plays for effect, and the old recordings give only a clue to any depth of tone or musicianship.
A work that suits her better is what must be the first recording of Grieg’s Piano Sonata in E minor Op. 7, which she plays in a rhythmic and clear style. One of her best discs is of Tchaikovsky’s Humoresque in G major Op. 10 No. 2. Her most successful recordings are those in which she partners violinist Marjorie Hayward, namely Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata Op. 47, and the Violin Sonata by César Franck. One electrical recording which displays Bourne in a superior light is that of Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in B flat K. 378. Her warm tone and articulation, most evident in the slow movement, are in close harmony with Hayward.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).