Martin Jones piano

Resonus 0291

I firmly believe that it is perfectly possible to enjoy and understand the music composed with serial technique alongside what Elisabeth Lutyens infamously called “the cowpat school”. If music is well composed, imaginative and even evocative then its worth your time and energies. Loving Finzi and Lutyens is just fine.

The BBC, in all their bluster about promoting music by female composers are running scared of Lutyens and indeed of Priaulx Rainier who is even more ‘difficult’. These women will “scare the horses” so are best avoided!

Lutyens was in fact very versatile and varied but the works on this new disc all are from the last decade or so of her life when her textures are becoming even more sparse, aphoristic and impressionistic.

If you have ever played over a score of Lutyens’s piano music you will know how incredibly difficult it can be both musically and technically, but Martin Jones is finger perfect on all counts. Richard Deering performed four works in a Wigmore Hall recital in 1976 and a recording of the event came out on Pearl, otherwise very few have tackled these pieces commercially. There are five works here, each separately tracked.

The Seven Preludes testify to Lutyens’ love of Debussy, each with a title such as Night Winds and Starlight given at the end of each brief piece.

The Great Seas is a vast canvas of over seventeen minutes. Michael Finnissey, who was the first to play it, rightly describes the music as ‘extremely sensual’ and, as Nigel Simeone adds in his booklet essay, the music also has ‘pain, darkness, even violence but also delicacy and fluidity’. It is not hide-bound by the strictest twelve-tone technique but is free and expansive.

Whilst the Five impromptus have some beautiful moments, especially in the last, it falls too easily into gestural pointillism, aping Webern.

Lutyens wrote four works entitled Plenum. No 1 (Fullness) is the earliest piece on the disc, from 1972. It is full of pain, loneliness and regret and does not use barlines; it employs, at times, the inside of the piano.

By the time we reach La natura dell’Acqua, Lutyens last piano work, we find music reduced almost to a skeleton punctuated by silences, resulting, one might say in gestures with heightened sensitivity to metre, stress and musical punctuation, yet flowing, like water without inhibition.

Martin Jones is a perfect advocate for this sensitive music, and he is beautifully and spaciously recorded.

Review by Gary Higginson