GMCD 7230 – British Fantasies / American Dreams – Music for Flute & Piano

Nancy Ruffer – Flute, Helen Crayford – Piano

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Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ Poem may be better known in its orchestral guise, but it also works quite well with piano accompaniment. This, one of Griffes’ last works written in 1919, is a beautiful song-like fantasy slightly redolent of Debussy.

Walter Piston’s beautifully proportioned, neo-classical Sonata of 1930 is a fine example of this composer’s well crafted music and a reminder of his studies with Nadia Boulanger. Three short movements, never outstaying their welcome, make for a most enjoyable, tuneful sonatina. Hamilton Harty’s fantasy In Ireland was written in 1918 and later scored for flute, harp and orchestra by the composer (recorded by Bryden Thomson for Chandos some years ago). There also exists a quite effective arrangement for flute and harp by Catherine Beynon (available on METIER MSV CD 92006). This is a delightful medley on Irish tunes.

The Irish composer Ian Wilson has already made quite a name for himself with an impressive, much varied output including a number of substantial works such as his organ concerto Rich Harbour, his three piano trios and his three string quartets. Ian Wilson’s music often has some extra-musical background, literary or pictorial, e.g. Giacometti’s works in his Second String Quartet “The Capsizing Man and other stories” (1994). The short piece for alto flute and piano Spilliaert’s Beach, written in 1999 for Nancy Ruffer, evokes the Belgian painter Léon Spilliaert whose painting Moonlit Beach of 1908 is, in its almost minimalist way, an impressive study in black-and-yellow contrasts. Wilson’s own brand of minimalism (in this work at least) perfectly matches Spilliaert’s economy of means. Very simple but highly effective, and a most welcome novelty.

I must confess that Peter Fribbins’ name and music are new to me. His Porphyria’s Lover, dedicated to Nancy Ruffer, is a very fine fantasy in three short sections: a more animated central section framed by slower ones. The composer mentions that the piece is based on Browning’s similarly titled poem, which – to be frank – does not mean much to me, but this elegantly wrought substantial piece of music of this is quite appealing.

Robert Beaser’s Minimal Waltz is exactly that: a delightful trifle of great charm playing for just over one minute. Lukas Foss’s Three American Pieces are among his earliest works, written in 1944 and 1945, and thus quite uncharacteristic of his later style. These short sketches are unashamedly neo-classical in style, particularly the first two pieces whereas the concluding Composer’s Holiday is a quick moto perpetuo in pure Americana with quotations of a familiar American song. Not a great work but quite enjoyable.

This welcome, well-planned, much varied and beautifully played collection ends with a quite effective arrangement of Cyril Scott’s celebrated Lotus Land, originally written for piano. No reservation whatsoever and heartily recommended.
Hubert Culot