MOERAN Complete Solo Piano Music
One of the great discoveries of my youth was the Symphony in G minor of EJ Moeran. This almost went into eclipse in the following years. But now, like so much of the music of the 20th-century English (and Irish) renaissance, it is being rediscovered. So this collection of music by Moeran and his contemporaries, living on both sides of the Irish Sea, is immensely valuable.
Moeran was born in Middlesex of an Irish father but grew up in rural Norfolk, and both Norfolk and Ireland provided part of his musical heritage. He achieved fame with his orchestral music but his earlier piano works are also both individual and inspired. The Three Piano Pieces were the first to be published and the opening ‘Lake Island’ has a similar gentle evocativeness to the following ‘Autumn Woods’. The boisterous, very Irish ‘At Horse Fair’ makes a lively contrast.
The Theme and Variations is seductively managed – sample the lovely Var 8. Stalham River, a miniature tone-poem, slightly Delian in character, is also poetically inspired. Of the two Legends, the piano-writing certainly suggests a narrative, while the Three Fancies make a perfectly poetic triptych, the ‘Windmills’ descriptive, the central ‘Elegy’ thoughtful and introspective, and the ‘Burlesque’ a captivating Irish dance. Moeran’s folksong arrangements too are memorable, notably the gentle ‘Irish Love Song’, while ‘The White Mountain’ draws simply on the famous ‘Star of the County Down’. Among the works by his contemporaries, the programme includes a late work by Herbert Howells, a Sonatina that is in every way distinctive, with vivacious outer movements and a haunting Adagio marked serioso. Moeran’s own highly individual pastoralism contrasts not only with the music of Howells but also with his own effervescent Toccata. Summer Valley again quotes beguilingly from ‘Star of the County Down’ and Bank Holiday is infectious and bustling.
The three works of Ronald Swaffield are all enticing miniatures and the Seven Preludes of the Yorkshire composer William Baines are equally diverse and ear-catching. Vaughan Williams isn’t forgotten here either: the Hymn Tune Prelude and The Lake in the Mountains show him at his most evocative. Thomas Pitfield takes us to Lancashire with his winningly inventive Prelude, Minuet and Reel. The collection ends with Moeran’s tranquil, Delian ‘Prelude’ and ‘Berceuse’, the last two pieces he wrote for solo piano. Duncan Honeybourne identifies completely with all this music and plays it with much feeling. He is well recorded and provides highly illuminating and extensive notes. A set not to be missed by all lovers of English music.