"An English Recital" is a compendium of rarely-heard works by generally well-known English composers (Vaughan Williams, Holst, Ireland, Bax, Warlock, Moeran, Britten, Joubert). The recital begins with Vaughan Williams' exquisite piano miniature, "The Lake in the Mountains", followed by his Gibbons Hymn Tune Prelude and the Suite of Six Short Pieces. The latter was composed in 1921 as a set of teaching exercises which, despite sounding deceptively simple, stand in their own right as recital pieces that deserve to be heard more often. The Slow Dance, with its beguiling lilt, is particularly lovely.
The Holst miniatures (Two Pieces for Piano, and Two Northumbrian Folk Tunes) were written in the composer's final years, and manifest the spare, austere style he was beginning to develop at that time. Perhaps the best-known work on this recording is John Ireland's Sonatina. Of the composers represented here, Ireland was surely the most pianistic of them all, and the present work is a superb example of his art - although it is perhaps less typical than some of his pieces. Still, the usual sense of English restraint and quiet sadness is there, especially in the central slow movement.
Arnold Bax is represented by the slow movement of his Piano Sonata No.4. The full work (available on the Naxos label) lasts some 20 minutes, but this movement, with its typical Baxian hallmarks, dreamy and passionate by turns, is worthy to stand on its own.
Warlock's technique, by his own admission, was narrowly based, but, as is well-known, embraced some of the finest English art songs of the twentieth century. On this recording, with the Five Folk-Song Preludes, he turns his skills to the piano miniature. The sad, rather dark feel to much of Warlock's music (he was a manic depressive) is present here, too, and is particularly evident in the extended final movement (largo maestoso) which makes for a heart-rending, yet contemplative close. The music is much more profound than the title would suggest.
"Bank Holiday", one of E.J. Moeran's best-known miniatures, is a rumbustuous romp through the English (or Irish?) countryside (he was sharing a cottage with Warlock in the Kentish village of Eynsford at the time), and seems to owe something to Percy Grainger. "Night Piece" is a rare example of a piano solo work by Benjamin Britten, but, as one would expect of the master, is a rewarding aural experience. A letter from the composer to John McCabe, printed in the booklet, gives some indication of how challenging the work is, even for a pianist of McCabe's stature.
John Joubert is South African by birth, but has lived and worked in Britain since 1946. The recital concludes with his Dance Suite whose five brief movements, lively and contemplative in turn, possess an overall rhythmic vitality which fully justifies the chosen title.
All but one of the works here were recorded in 1972, and the recitalist John McCabe (who also provided the booklet notes), with his superb pianistic technique and his commitment to the British cause (he is President of the British Music Society that sponsored this release) is the perfect choice for this showcase of the best in the English solo piano repertoire.