VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Introduction and Fugue for 2 Pianos
Around the same time (1945 46) that Vaughan Williams was collaborating with Joseph Cooper on the two-piano transcription of his craggy Piano Concerto (1926 31), he wrote an an imposing stand-alone piece for the same medium entitled Introduction and Fugue. Both works were devised for Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith, who gave the premiere of the instrumental offering in March 1946, eight months before that of the concerto. It is, not to beat about the bush, a riveting creation which effortlessly holds the listener during its 17-minute course and also contains unmistakable and intriguing links with both of the composer’s E minor symphonies – dip in from 12'20" onwards to hear thematic material from the Ninth heave into view.
Amazingly, this is its first CD recording – and a superb one it is, too, Mark Bebbington and Rebeca Omordia finding a unremitting logic, sweep and concentration that thrill to the marrow. They bestow comparably understanding advocacy upon the 1947 two-piano version of the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (made in conjunction with Maurice Jacobson, director of the music publishers Curwen) and the vernally fresh Fantasia on Greensleeves that RVW adapted for piano duet from his opera Sir John in Love.
As for the solo items, Bebbington gives ideally lofty and serene renderings of the evocative The Lake in the Mountains (which began life as an episode from the 1941 film score for 49th Parallel), the exquisite Hymn Tune Prelude on ‘Song 13’ by Orlando Gibbons (written for Harriet Cohen in 1928) and that delectable treatment of Bach’s Ach bleib’ bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, which first appeared in Oxford University Press’s 1930 miscellany entitled The Harriet Cohen Bach Book. Bebbington’s disarmingly deft touch likewise works wonders in the two sets of teaching pieces that close proceedings; the pithy Nocturne from A Little Piano Book (1934) is a wholly characteristic gem.
What a classy anthology this is, realistically recorded within the kind acoustic of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Adrian Boult Hall, and boasting an extensive and authoritative booklet essay by Robert Matthew-Walker.