Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fantasie-Variations on a Swedish Air
. Piano Concerto in D.
Piano Trio in G.
Piano Quartet in e
Nicholas Braithwaite, cond; Eric Parkin (pn);
London PO; Tunnell Pn Qrt
LYRITA 2286 (2 CDs: 100: 37)
William Hurlstone was born in
1876 into a not particularly musical family, but his talent developed early, as exemplified by the
Five Easy Pieces
for piano composed at the age of nine. He then studied at the Royal College of Music as a teenager with other soon-to-be-famous students including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge, and John Ireland. Despite this formidable list, their teacher Charles Stanford considered Hurlstone to be his most talented student (which has to make you at least question his judgment). Hurlstone never really developed to his fullest potential as a composer or performer because of persistent poor health that eventually led to his death from complications of asthma at the age of 30.
Hurlstone was an unabashed Romantic who primarily wrote orchestral and chamber music. His style reflects middle-European influences more than the British pastoral school. He was also an accomplished pianist, and his Piano Concerto appears to have been written at the age of 19 as a vehicle for himself (according to the program notes). It is a big, good-natured, 25-minute piece that has Brahmsian overtones and plenty of pleasant, but not particularly distinguished or instantly hummable melodies. The interplay between soloist and orchestra is effective but not very dramatic. In fact, the whole thing sounds a bit bland and monochromatic.The
Fantasie-Variations on a Swedish
Air is one of several such pieces that Hurlstone wrote in a relatively short time period. It is generally considered to be his finest work. The style remains basically conservative, Romantic, and unproblematical, but the advances in orchestration and thematic development over the Piano Concerto are significant. That Swedish tune is actually augmented or even superseded by an original theme that plays a major role in the subsequent variations. The work begins with a statement of Hurlstone’s theme by bassoons and low strings that immediately establishes a sense of gravitas before it segues into the Swedish tune. The variations are far more dramatic and technically complex than the Piano Concerto as they build toward a formidable final climax. This is a similarly likable but far more interesting piece that deserves occasional concert programming, and would be an appropriate CD coupling for Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations—which is not to say that it has the crackling originality of Elgar’s masterpiece.
The Piano Quartet and Piano Trio are utterly charming but low-key Romantic confections. There are plenty of flowing, lyrical melodies, and the faster parts have a gentle dance-like character that is totally devoid of conflict. Stylistically, the music lies somewhere between Brahms and Dvo?ák, but without their clearly identifiable original styles.The sound for the orchestral works is below Lyrita’s best standards. There is nothing harsh or overtly objectionable, but it lacks the midrange clarity and inner detail that would have helped to clarify Hurlstone’s fairly dense orchestration. This is surprising considering that the engineer is Kenneth Wilkinson and the venue is Kingsway Hall. The chamber pieces, recorded two years later in 1978, sound simply gorgeous. I am aware of no other modern recordings of this music, so there is essentially no competition. The performances appear to be totally committed.
This, then, is a CD of charming but not particularly problem-provoking music. The impression is that Hurlstone was a formidable talent who was just finding his voice with the
when he died prematurely. If you like this, there is another recording containing Hurlstone’s
Variations on an Original Theme, Variations on a Hungarian Air
The Magic Mirror Suite
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano in D major by William Yeates Hurlstone
Eric Parkin (Piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1895; England
Fantasie-Variations on a Swedish Air by William Yeates Hurlstone
London Philharmonic Orchestra
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