David Owen Norris, piano

Three Studies, op.4 / Three Pieces, op.16 / Two impressions, op.19 /
Four Country Pieces op. 27 Suite from Where The Rainbow Ends

Hard on the heels of the Dicky Bird Hop CD – which I reviewed very recently in these pages – comes another from the specialist EM record company, this one being wholly devoted to the 20th century English composer Roger Quilter.

It is not in fact a new recording, but originates from 2004. Unusually, there is no date of publication provided either on the disc itself or within the booklet. However, some of the descriptive notes were written by Dr. Valerie Langfield – who has made a special study of Quilter – and bear her copyright date of 2011, so it would have presumably been released sometime afterwards. Having the number CD002, it is quite probably only the second item in the company’s ever-growing catalogue.

The pianist, well-known soloist, broadcaster and musicologist David Owen Norris, has appended some very extensive information describing his approach to the performance of these piano works, which provides a perceptive insight into Quilter and his compositional methodology.

The booklet's front cover proclaims that the CD contains the 'Complete Piano Music of Roger Quilter'. Although a fine pianist, Quilter left comparatively little solo music for the instrument, instead employing it principally as accompaniment for the solo voice. He is best known for his many songs, each one a finely crafted miniature with exquisite piano accompaniments, which sometimes almost seem to be piano solos in their own right.

EM Records has pursued an ongoing policy of including at least world premiere recording on each of its releases, and this CD is no exception. We thus have Quilter's piano score of the suite which he made from his incidental music to the 1911 fairy-tale play for children, 'Where The Rainbow Ends', although this does differ from the better-known orchestral suite in a few respects. It is, therefore, not simply a piano reduction of the orchestral parts, but rather a separate stand-alone collection. One item not present in the original suite but making its appearance here is the atmospheric Moonlight On The Lake, in an arrangement by the composer's great friend from their music-student days in Frankfurt, Germany – Percy Grainger.

I had previously encountered the Four Country Pieces Op.27 in orchestral arrangements made by the late Ernest Tomlinson for a 1992 Marco Polo CD featuring compositions by Roger Quilter, but this is the first opportunity I have had to sample the movements in their original piano guise; it was interesting to compare the orchestral and piano versions.

In her very comprehensive notes about Quilter and his piano works, Dr. Langfield makes reference to 'French influences' (Quilter knew Gabriel Fauré) and also to the 'Brahmsian touches' and 'hints of Rachmaninov' contained in the Three Studies.

Conversely, those who are familiar with the 'Rainbow' pieces or the Three English Dances, (arguably the composer's most familiar orchestral work), will have little difficulty in recognising Roger Quilter's distinctively English 'musical fingerprints', which are evident throughout David Owen Norris's magnificent performances.

This is a CD of fine music which undoubtedly deserves to reach a wider audience. It may be obtained directly from EM Records :-


© Tony Clayden 2021

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