Mark Bebbington

The Piano Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote little piano music, and even on this collection of solo and duo piano works much of what you hear is adapted from other music. Given the fluency of the piano writing here, it's a little hard to understand why the instrument was neglected, inasmuch as the world in which Vaughan Williams worked was full of piano concerts, presented in places much like Birmingham's Adrian Boult Hall, where Somm does excellent engineering work here. There are two sets of short pieces that present snatches of the composer's melodic gift. There are adaptations of music by Bach, Tallis, and Gibbons; the first of these (track 3) is quite notable for the density with which the Bach material is reworked, in an almost Busonian treatment. There are piano versions of other works by Vaughan Williams himself; you can sample The Lake in the Mountains (track 1), a top-drawer piece of pastoral Vaughan Williams taken from one of his underrated film scores from after World War II. But most impressive of all is a piece of entirely original music, and one that hardly resembles anything else Vaughan Williams wrote. The Introduction and Fugue for two pianos of 1946 is a massive contrapuntal essay. It is certainly inspired by Bach, but Bachian counterpoint is thoroughly reimagined in terms of Vaughan Williams' own modal harmonic thinking, and the fact that it's a major intellectual accomplishment that pretty much stands alone is remarkable. If "intellectual" is not a word you have often applied to Vaughan Williams, listen to this and think again. The work is also a powerhouse of pianism, and British music specialist Mark Bebbington and Romanian-Nigerian pianist Rebeca Omordia keep the lines clear even in highly tangled circumstances. Recorded here for the first time, it's a neglected masterwork, well worth your money and time. The rest is highly recommended for Vaughan Williams lovers; the Introduction and Fugue is highly recommended for anybody.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 5:34
2 17:22
3 5:49
4 12:29
5 4:44
6 3:53
A Little Piano Book (solo piano)
7 1:31
8 1:38
9 1:04
10 1:14
11 0:57
12 0:52
Suite of Six Short Pieces for piano solo
13 1:39
14 1:44
15 2:10
16 3:07
17 2:38
18 2:21
blue highlight denotes track pick