This disc has something of an unusual and complicated genesis. A large part of it derives from a World Record Club LP issued in 1978 called An Introduction to Piano Music. To this we have a number of more recent things which reflect Trevor Barnard’s many years of residence in Australia. So the Grieg and Butterley Arioso derive from undated ABC sessions and the Sutherland Chorale Preludes, the Butterley Comment and Werder’s Spring come from a previously issued Divine Art disc. In similar fashion the Bertram and Dargeville pieces were also issued by Divine Art – see the head note for the exact release numbers in case of confusion. Divine Art 25005 by the way is called Bach Transcriptions and Australian piano music.
So a rather complicated back-story precedes this release. But irrespective of that I’m sure many British music enthusiasts will remember Barnard’s epic recording of the Bliss Concerto with Malcolm Sargent in 1962 – now on Divine Art 24106 – as well as the same composer’s sonata, which is coupled with Busoni’s 24 Preludes on the same label . Divine Art has stood by its man with commendable diligence and assiduity.
Barnard’s Piano Odyssey is thus a rather bipartite affair but it makes for an enjoyable if not quite Homeric journey. I found the Australian works the most exciting performances. Margaret Sutherland’s Chorale Preludes, especially ‘Herzliebster Jesu’, are nobly grave utterances well worth the care Barnard spends on them. Sculthorpe’s 1954 Sonatina is a sonorously skittish work that circles in and around itself with increasingly power and agility. The finale is a trafficky, perky affair. Barnard warns of the work’s “severe bitonality” but it sounds wonderfully refreshing in this reading. Nigel Butterley’s Arioso has Bachian inflections whilst his Comment on a Popular Song, which happens to be Click go the Shears, offers a fine, tense contrast. Michael Betram offers some hyperactive minimalism whilst Tim Dargeville gives us a reflective, sonorous last night in the life of Ned Kelly. To end the Australian segment there’s the atonal and not especially endearing Spring by the German-born Felix Werder.
His WRC LP selection starts with Bach – the Two Part Invention in C major that sings less than, say, Craig Sheppard’s performance. It continues through Schubert’s Moment Musical in F minor – too many fiddly rubatos – and embraces a poetic but rather deadpan Schumann Toccata. Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor also sports some divisive and line bending rubati. Albéniz’s Tango is rather laid back and doesn’t evince much Iberian colour.
So the primary focus will be the exploration of Australian music that makes up the latter part of the disc. Barnard’s playing of the central repertoire back in the 1970s was certainly efficient but not especially distinctive and he was prone to some mannered moments.
Recording quality is consistent despite the vagaries of dates and locations and the notes are helpful.