Those of you who, when you see wording on a CD label as above, habitually toss it aside, shudder and forget it, should make an exception of this one. True, the music is demanding (what worthwhile music isn’t?), but it is also exhilarating. And there are a number of features about its presentation which enhance the experience of discovering it. (I venture to suggest that even seasoned listeners will not know much of what is on offer here).
Firstly, there is the booklet. The notes, largely by Anthony Goldstone himself, are exemplary. They tell us the sort of things we should know in order to inform our listening, including enough of each composer’s background to lend understanding to the kind of music he wrote (writes). There is also sufficient about the music itself to guide us through each work in turn and make the listening even more rewarding.
Wherever possible, and whenever necessary, Goldstone includes comment from the composers themselves. Some composers are notoriously bad at putting their thoughts into words (after all, their medium is the music itself) but those who write here are gifted teachers who know what they want to say and how to say it – to our advantage!
Then there is the music itself. Many will know Holst’s Japanese Suite in its orchestral guise, a charming, if minor, product of his still under-rated (and under-heard) genius and just as effective in the transcription.
The Eastern flavour continues in Ronald Stevenson’sTwo Chinese Folk Songswhich catch an authentic Japanese flavour throughout, not just in the actual folksongs, and (as explained by Stevenson) uses the songs themselves very skilfully.
Anthony Hedges makes three contributions to the disc and all bear the imprint of one who is adept at producing light, as well as more demanding, music. The two sets of short pieces – ‘Three Explorations’ and ‘Five Aphorisms’ – communicate immediately yet also have enough substance to reward repeated listening. As for the Sonata, though obviously by the same hand, it is by its very nature more substantial. As befits the music of one who successfully taught composition for many years it is lucid and logical in its thought processes and riveting as music, unfolding more and more of its considerable treasures on subsequent hearings.
Perhaps the major work on the disc is Kenneth Leighton’s Prelude, Hymn and Toccata. In some ways I wish the sleeve-note had not disclosed the name of the hymn tune at the centre of the piece. (Leighton does not name it). But whether you are in the know or not (on first hearing I was not) it is fascinating to hear how the composer uses splintered fragments of what is a very well known tune indeed to give logic, continuity, substance and structure to what is undoubtedly a major utterance.
So much for the music; now the performance. Goldstone and Clemmow are one of music’s foremost duos. Their playing of the major duo and duet repertoire always tingles with excitement and rewards with perceptive musicianship. And this disc is no exception. Whether at one or two pianos, what we hear is both virtuoso and illuminating.
Goldstone is, of course, an eminent soloist in his own right and Anthony Hedges must surely count himself fortunate to have such a commanding performance of what is a very fine piece. But, something I have also suspected, the performances of Hedges’ shorter pieces show Caroline Clemmow to be a fine pianist too. On this showing she should emerge more often from the duo and lend her considerable talents to the solo repertoire.
If you haven’t already guessed it, I was bowled over by this disc and urge you to have a similar experience by buying it.
Just one word of warning: don’t attempt to devour it all in one sitting; it is far too substantial a meal for such an approach and each course merits special attention in its own right.