The piano music of the British Isles generation preceding Edward Elgar has been almost completely ignored on recordings, and for that reason alone this recording by Australian pianist Sam Haywood is welcome. Likewise, the tradition of writing cycles of preludes, or preludes and fugues, did not pass directly from Bach to Chopin to Shostakovich; there were many intervening steps. These two sets of little preludes come from late in the career of Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford, after he had been largely, to his considerable resentment, eclipsed by Elgar. Haywood feels free to excerpt the two sets of preludes and take it out of key order, which doesn't say much for the coherence of the publications as a whole. But the composer may have meant the pieces more to be played singly or in small groups than from start to finish, and there are enjoyable stops along the way. The pieces form a sort of music-historical survey, with clear homages to Bach mixed in with references to Chopin's preludes (sample the Prelude No. XLIV in A minor, which brings to mind the ceaseless runs of the finale of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35, as well as pieces that sound like Mendelssohn or Schumann, with a bit of an extra chromatic layer added on. And in places, despite his well-known distaste for the progressive late Romantics, there are pieces that sound as though Wagner had somehow decided to write piano preludes. Haywood is very good, capturing the flavor of this music that is far from the salon and yet somehow not terribly serious, and the booklet notes by Jeremy Dibble, a specialist in music of this period, are quite useful. Recommended for lovers of the English school.
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