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William Alwyn: Piano Music

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 0133
Release Date: 11/01/2013
Number of Discs: 1
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Mark Bebbington, piano

Following acclaimed cycles of Frank Bridge and John Ireland, Mark Bebbington’s new release  (December) for SOMM  (his thirty- first CD for the label) focuses on the piano music of William Alwyn and his second wife, Doreen Carwithen.

Although chiefly remembered today as a large-scale symphonic and film composer – Alwyn’s symphonies were championed by Barbirolli, Sargent and Sir Thomas Beecham – his exceptional body of piano works spanned his creative life and reveals a composer entirely attuned to the inventive possibilities of twentieth-century piano writing.

As Mark Bebbington says:

The piano writing of Alwyn would grace any current day piano recital; its blend of lyricism, romantic heart-on-sleeve melodies, wit and – at times- acerbic harmonic language make for a heady mix. And yet Alwyn remains his own, individual man. Coupled with a real sense of keyboard virtuosity, these works are irresistible….

His most significant work for solo piano is the masterful Fantasy Waltzes. Composed in 1954, they take as their inspiration the earlier Valses nobles et sentimentales of Ravel (composed in 1911). Alwyn always finds a depth and intensity of expression in these waltzes which belies their size and scope. Tracks 5 (Lento) and 7 (Lento) for example reveal an almost Mahlerian language. Elsewhere, Alwyn reveals the skittish  (track 8 – Vivace, ma ritmico) and languid elements of the Waltz (track 4 – Grazioso) and the set concludes with a whirling virtuosic show-piece. (track 11 – Presto).

It is interesting to note that the idea for the the Fantasy Waltzes originated when Alwyn was on holiday in Norway after a visit to Grieg’s lakeside home. This can be seen most clearly in the third piece (the first to be composed) which was intended as a homage to Grieg and indeed inhabits the sound world of the Lyric Pieces.

For the earlier Sonata alla toccata (1945), the influence of Alwyn the film composer comes to the fore; the work is full of the bold, dramatic gesture of the Silver Screen  – the wryly syncopated rhythms of the first movement and the hushed romantic intensity of the slow movement, for example – and yet the work is fabulously successful as a concert work for solo piano.

Alwyn had a lifelong enthusiasm for music education. He wrote many piano miniatures for exam boards and there’s little doubt that Weather Vane and Bicycle Ride were destined for such publication. Numerous felicities abound…the charming waltz lilt of track 24 The Sunny South and the deadpan humour of Bicycle Ride (track 16). Were they by-passed for publication by Alwyn…? Surely not – more likely he’d simply forgotten about them. Probing insights inform Funeral rights for the death of an Artist. Who the Artist was remains a mystery, but Alwyn’s musical language comes close to the Second Viennese School. This is a highly rewarding, but not an easy, listen.

Doreen Carwithen was born in 1922 and died in 2003. She studied with Alwyn at the Royal Academy of Music from 1941 and they were to marry many years later. The neo-classical world of her Sonatina (1945) abounds with a gallic charm that recalls a heady mix of Stravinsky and Chabrier. At its heart, though, is a slow movement of considerable depth and profundity. Late in life Carwithen professed no regrets at having  neglected her own compositional career in favour of Alwyn’s; writing of this quality suggests that Alwyn’s gain was the wider musical world’s loss.

Mark Bebbington
The critical plaudits which have greeted Mark Bebbington’s performances and recordings have singled him out as a British pianist of the rarest refinement and maturity. Increasingly recognised as a champion of British music, Mark has recorded extensively for SOMM “New Horizons” label to unanimous critical acclaim.

His most recent CDs – four British Piano Concertos with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a premiere recording of Arnold Bax’s Piano Concertino coupled with John Ireland’s Piano Concerto and Legend with the Orchestra of the Swan, and premieres of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia and William Mathias’ first two Piano Concertos with the Ulster Orchestra – were released in 2011 and have met with rapturous acclaim.

In addition to concerto recordings, Mark continues his John Ireland and Frank Bridge solo piano series; five consecutive discs have each earned him 5***** in BBC Music Magazine and International Piano summed up his achievement in May 2012:-
“Bebbington’s revivals of British piano music are second to none; he could well be dubbed the concert pianists’ Richard Hickox. Bebbington has almost single-handedly demonstrated that 20th-century British piano scores have an exciting role to play in the concert hall and recording studio.”

All these CDs are initial releases in an ongoing series of recordings at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, where Mark has the distinction of becoming the first solo artist to record.
Over recent seasons Mark has toured extensively throughout Central and Northern Europe (both as recitalist and as soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras), as well as the Far East and North Africa. Within the UK, he has appeared in concertos with the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras, the London Mozart Players and the Orchestra of the Swan. He has featured both as soloist and recitalist on BBC Television and Radio and also on major European Television and Radio networks.
Mark studied at the Royal College of Music where he was a recipient of numerous international awards and prizes, including a Leverhulme Scholarship, a Winston Churchill Fellowship and the Ivan Sutton Recording Prize – the latter awarded to the one outstanding graduate of the combined London Music Colleges. He later studied in Italy with the legendary Aldo Ciccolini.

Mark’s programming demonstrates a commitment to the music of our time and he regularly includes contemporary composers as diverse as Takemitsu, Julian Anderson, John McCabe, Ian Venables, David Matthews, Pierre Boulez and Elliot Carter in his recital series.

Projects for 2013/14 include continuing releases for the Somm label of both twentieth-century British piano music and further concerto recordings with the Ulster and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras, appearances in major concert series and festivals both in the UK and throughout Europe (including a debut at the Husum “Piano Rarities” Festival in Germany and the Grand Theatre – Opera National de Bordeaux as part of the Bordeaux International Festival), concertos with the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic and BBC Concert Orchestras and London solo recitals at the South Bank, St John’s Smith Square and the Wigmore Hall.

“Bebbington dispatches Alwyn’s virtuosic, Grieg-inspired Fantasy Waltzes with real panache and romps through the rewarding neoclassicism of the Sonata alla Toccata. A revelatory disc.” The Guardian | READ |

On This Recording

  1. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 1 in A-Flat Major: Tempo rubato e capriccioso
  2. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 2 in B-Flat Major: Scherzando
  3. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 3 in E Minor: Moderato
  4. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 4 in B Major: Grazioso
  5. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 5 in A-Flat Major: Lento
  6. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 6 in C Major: Allegro giocoso
  7. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 7 in A Minor: Lento
  8. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 8 in G Major: Vivace, ma ritmico
  9. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 9 in C Minor: Lento e lugubre
  10. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 10 in F-Sharp Major: In tempo piacevole
  11. Fantasy Waltzes: No. 11 in A Major: Presto
  12. Piano Sonatina: I. Allegro moderato – Più lento Maestoso – Più mosso – Tempo
  13. Piano Sonatina: II. Molto adagio
  14. Piano Sonatina: III. Allegro molto
  15. Funeral Rites for the Death of an Artist
  16. Bicycle Ride
  17. Piece for Piano
  18. Sonata alla toccata: I. Maestoso: Allegro ritmico e jubilante
  19. Sonata alla toccata: II. Andante con moto e semplice
  20. Sonata alla toccata: III. Molto vivace
  21. The Weather Vane: I. The Weather Prophet
  22. The Weather Vane: II. The West Wind
  23. The Weather Vane: III. From the East
  24. The Weather Vane: IV. The Sunny South
  25. The Weather Vane: V. The North Wind Doth Blow