Duncan Honeybourne piano


In his introductory note to the first piece on the CD, pianist Duncan Honeybourne writes regarding the music of Cummings-Knight that it is ‘Always steeped in his musical inheritance and the example of composers he loves’.

Honeybourne never expressly states who these composers are but at least on the immediate surface of the music, the names of Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky immediately leap to mind.

In the opening movement of the Sonata No. 1 (actually the fourth in order of composition) pianistic callisthenics, big chords, virtuoso runs and ripples remind one of Rachmaninoff. All these are certainly there, and with his seasoned technical abilities, Duncan Honeybourne is the man to deliver these with stylistic élan. However, thinking of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and not just the Eighteenth Variation but all the rest of the work, Cummings-Knight takes on Rachmaninoff’s special ability to produce imaginative variations.

The second movement, Diversions on Pange Lingua, by far the longest, is testimony to that, although Cummings-Knight prefers the word ‘Diversions’ rather than variations, suggesting a certain element of playfulness that is certainly there in the music.

However go underneath the surface of the music and you will find in the first movement, Toccata as well, a melodic core with a hint of modal writing – something that is essentially late nineteenth, early twentieth century English. In the musical world of Cummings-Knight, Schoenberg, Webern and those others never really happened.

The composer’s fondness for Russian music emerges in the two following pieces which are more gentle, more thoughtful. It is here that Mussorgsky hovers in the background as a composer who is able to paint pictures in music. Snowfall in Suzdal and Kolomenskoe on a cloudy day, are attractive portraits of touristic places near Moscow (see pictures of them on the internet!).

Three Preludes are also slow and very expressive. The third, Mahlerian Adagio is harmonically imaginative and attractive, but I could not really link it to Mahler.

The final work on the CD, Ballade, encapsulates all that has gone before in its contrasting sections. It makes particularly attractive listening. 

This CD will appeal to all those who enjoy complex deeply expressive piano music. Budding pianists too could well be encouraged to seek out the scores for something new and attractive just to play, or to programme in their concerts.   

Review by Alan Cooper