Composers: Delius, Alwyn
Performers: Nathan Williamson p
Catalogue Number: Somm SOMMCD0196
In his notes to this stimulating recording of 20th-century British piano music, pianist-composer Nathan Williamson writes: “In bringing together this collection… I have tried to create a diverse yet balanced programme loosely based around the different responses that composers have brought to this question.” What question is that? It is this: where did, and do, they stand regarding the traditional on the one hand and the progressive on the other?
Williamson chooses his polar opposites: Delius (1862-1934) at one extreme and serial composer Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-83) at the other. In the middle we have three composers surfing the continuum between: Alwyn (1905-85), Peter Dickinson (b. 1934) and another pianist-composer, Anthony Herschel Hill (1939-2016). Alwyn’s Twelve Preludes seem to echo Chopin’s in their veering between delicacy and stridency. Dickinson’s Paraphrase II (a first studio recording), a theme based on one of his motets followed by six variations, can be equally rhapsodic if more mathematical.
Between the more overtly romantic groups – Delius’ Nocturne and Prelude and Duet, arranged by Ravel, and Hill’s exciting, virtuosic Litany and Toccata (first recordings) – comes Lutyens’ The Ring of Bone, featuring her own words spoken by the pianist. All are played by Williamson with that variety of confidence and sensitivity, in regard to form and content, that only another composer can guarantee.