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Francis Routh: Well-tempered Pianist / Charles Matthews

Release Date: 03/08/2011 
Label:  Redcliffe Recordings   Catalog #: 21   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Francis Routh
Performer:  Charles Matthews
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ROUTH The Well Tempered Pianist Charles Matthews (pn) REDCLIFFE RR 021 (61:39)

There are certain forms in music that seem to be timeless, in no danger of becoming used up. The occasional proclamation that the symphony is dead, for example, has been repeatedly and greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Twain. The piano prelude, and specifically a set of 24 to represent all of the major and minor keys, seems equally immortal. This recent (2008) endeavor comes from British composer and scholar Francis Routh. The Read more music is not especially novel, written in a conservative, tonal manner that is reminiscent of the modern Russian style of Prokofiev and Shostakovich—that is to say, tonal, but with plenty of dissonance to spice things up. Actually, Shostakovich, too, wrote both a set of preludes, a very early work, as well as a celebrated set of preludes and fugues, both displaying a neobaroque sensibility, while Routh seems more attuned to the romantic model of Chopin. The opening C-Major prelude almost sounds like the skeleton of the first prelude in the Chopin set. Many of the pieces have a fantasy-like character. In some of the more exuberant moments, yet another prelude composer is suggested: Rachmaninoff.

Beyond the influences of past masters of the prelude, Routh introduces another element that gives his music specific character. He employs something he calls a scale of extended tonality, which has the practical effect of somewhat blurring the line between the major and minor modes, at least as the ear perceives the music. To my ears, this also narrows the dramatic range of the work. C Major is often used to convey a jubilant air, but not so here. At the same time, the minor-key preludes offer no pathos or sadness. This is not a criticism. Routh’s manner of expression is freighted with mystery and inquisitive motifs.

Charles Matthews, who premiered this music, plays with the intensity and affection that one would expect. His tonality in the softer, slower music is especially lovely, but he loses a bit of focus in the faster material. Routh himself contributes the liner notes, but there is no biographical information about this rather obscure figure, now in his 80s, nor about the pianist. In any case, this is a solid attempt to enrich a venerable musical form.

FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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Works on This Recording

The Well-Tempered Pianist, preludes for piano, Op. 77 by Francis Routh
Performer:  Charles Matthews (Piano)
Written: 2006-2008 
Venue:  Concert Hall, Wyastone, Monmouth, Wales 
Length: 58 Minutes 7 Secs. 

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