This disc was recorded back in 1996 and was first released on Albany TROY 198/Olympia OCD 683. It now appears under licence by Divine Art in their Diversions marque. Given the large number of labels run by Divine Art we are soon going to have to come up with a collective noun. In any case it restores Goldstone and Clemmow’s terrific all-British recordings back to wide circulation, and does so in some style with an attractively laid out booklet note.
The disc starts with a performance of Elgar’s arrangement for piano-duet of his Serenade for Strings . It was published in Leipzig in 1893, as was the string version, the year after the piece had been composed. So this ‘domestic market’ version was in no way an afterthought, but contemporary. It makes for most diverting listening, allowing one – as is so often the case in such circumstances – to hear the harmonic development with that much more immediacy. Certainly the slow movement may lack a little something in pathos, but not, I think, in nobility or even, in a curious way, in intimacy.
Frank Bury (1910-1944) wrote his Prelude and Fugue in E flat for two pianos. A student of Gordon Jacob and later (of conducting) Bruno Walter, Bury was killed during the Second World War. His Prelude is genial, somewhat pastoral, and then it’s followed by a brief but richly voiced Fugue, full of interesting contrapuntal detail. It’s the first piece of his to have been recorded. It fits into the genre very well, and also reminds one of those many English composers who wrote Bachian piano works in the 1920s and 1930s – not least for the Bach Book of Harriet Cohen, of which Bury’s piece offers, at a remove, a fine appendix.
Edgar Bainton (1880-1956) is represented by his Miniature Suite for piano duet, fresh and light and full of the spirit of the dance.
The rest of the disc is taken up with Holst. First we hear the composer’s own version for two pianos of his Elegy (In Memoriam William Morris), taken from the Cotswolds’ Symphony of 1899-1900. This rises to the crest of its gravity to considerably moving effect, rather more so in fact than the full orchestral version – at least that’s my own experience. But the main item in the programme, the pièce de résistance , is The Planets . This is the composer’s two-piano version, not the one for piano duet. I believe this two piano arrangement is the version that Richard Markham and David Nettle recorded for Saga Psyche LP many years ago, but which I’ve unfortunately not heard.
Goldstone and Clemmow play The Planets with genuine percussive intensity. They manage to convey the writing, on its pianistic lines, as a valid musical experience in itself. It’s hardly intended to supplant the orchestral version but it does supplement it and acts as an appendix, much as Bury’s piece did, for those who wish to immerse themselves in its intricacies. Such will be devoid of the sense of orchestral colour evoked by Holst, as well, obviously, as the chorus. But it is quite remarkable how ‘well clothed’ this apparent skeleton remains, but – more particularly – how one concentrates much more on the essential core of the music than in that sense of fantasy or colour.
This excellent disc thus presents an enjoyably varied programme offering a revivifying slant on British piano music.