The Complete Piano Works of Peter Wishart (1921-1984). Mark Tanner,
piano, with Allan Schiller.
Opheis Kai Klimakes, op. 35 (Snakes and Ladders), 1959; Partita in F
sharp, Op. 10, 1950; Sonata for Piano Duet in B flat, Op. 5, 1949.
Also: Constant Lambert: Suite in three (continuous) movements, 1925;
Prize Fight, arr. for piano duet by the composer, 1924.
Priory PRCD 881. TT 73:43
Critical summary: brilliant playing of obscure works
Wishart, of Scottish descent and English upbringing, studied in Paris
with Nadia Boulanger, as well as at Birmingham University. He later
became a professor at Birmingham, Reading and elsewhere. His scholarly
work included a three volume edition of Purcell's songs, done with his
third wife, who later established a festival in Wishart's name. He wrote
five operas, choral music, incidental music for plays, choral music,
songs, two symphonies, quartets, and concertos for violin and for piano.
His surviving music for piano alone is on this disc.
The strange title of Snakes and Ladders is taken from a children's board
game involving, I understand, more chance than skill. As I am personally
unacquainted with the game, I am not in a position to discuss it in terms
of the music. Mark Tanner in his extensive notes for this release (about
18 pages, all in English) suggests a debt to Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis,
as well as to Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues. The piece has never
been published; played in by its dedicatee Alexander Kelly in Scotland
and in Wigmore Hall in 1960, it was next played, again in Wigmore Hall,
by Mark Tanner, nearly a half- century later, and recorded in Bristol.
To be sure, it is complex and challenging to play; its frequent passages
with intervals of 9ths and 10ths require a pianist with large hands
capable of strenuous playing. It is in six movements, the first and
last unmarked as to tempo. Tanner takes the opening at a moderate pace,
his playing firm and emphatic, then quiet. The rather Bach-like final
section is played fast rather than slow. In the middle movements Tanner
plays with a varied attack, from loud and emphatic to a light touch in
fast passages. A presto movement comes at least close to jazzy and the
adagio is mostly gentle. So is the piece playful? I would say yes, at
least at times. I find none of it jarring. Tanner says of this work
that "one is never too far from a charming lyrical passage, quirky
rhythmic cameo or enticing concoction of harmonies to tease with one's
sense of tonal centre." Of Wishart's music in general Tanner speaks of
"tightly argued structure and consistently innovative ideas."
The relatively short Partita comprises a gentle Prelude, a vigorous
Burlesca, a song-like Aria and a final Capriccio. The Sonata begins
with a vigorous Prelude and continues with seven brief variations, the
character of which vary from gentle to impetuous, crisp and percussive.
In contrast to his provocative and, to me off-putting book, Music Ho!,
I find Constant Lambert's piano music appealing. He studied with Vaughan
Williams at the Royal College of Music and was influenced by Diaghilev'e
Ballet Russe, for which he wrote a ballet, Romeo and Juliet, in 1928.
This Suite was performed by the composer at the RCM when he was 19 but
for unspecified legal reasons the work was not performed again for
many years. The three movements are based on a single theme. Clearly
influenced by Debussy, it even uses whole tones. It also has echoes of
Liszt and even Stravinsky whom Lambert was so down on in his famous book.
The Suite begins with limpid and sonorous sounds but turns to staccato
notes and jazzy, catchy rhythms before it ends quietly.
Prize Fight, Satie-like in character, was composed for a percussion-
dominated orchestra and re-written for piano duet is, as one would expect,
a hard-hitting work, punctuated on occasion by a bell (not a tubular
one.) There are some polyrhythms (e.g. 12/8 against 4/4) and "When
Johnny Comes Marching Home" is quoted.
The second pianist, Allan Schiller, played with the Halle Orchestra under
Barbirolli at the age of ten, and was the first British pianist to win
a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatoire. Especially known for his
Mozart performances, his playing technique emphasizes the "vocal way,"
in which "instead of hitting the keyboard he coaxes sound from it in
such a way as to make one forget the piano is a percussive instrument
whose sound is forever dying. Mark Tanner, in contrast, at least to my
ears, uses very different techniques. What most strikes me about Tanner's
playing is the enormous range of sounds he brings forth even within
movements, as I have tried to describe.
Copyright 2007 by R. James Tobin
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