Simon Callaghan piano 
Hiroaki Takenouchi piano


The majority of the music on this disc is by Madeline Dring (1923-77), a prodigiously gifted musician who died far too young of a cerebral haemorrhage. Born with perfect pitch and synaesthesia, she demonstrated her musical skills at a very early age, joining the junior Royal College of Music, aged nine.

At the RCM she studied with Howells and occasionally Vaughan Williams. After the war she married oboist Roger Lord. and began a busy musical life covering many genres. Lengnick took her up in 1948, publishing the Fantastic Variations on Lilliburlero, recorded here, and the Fantasy Sonata, a marvellous work which she had written when she was fifteen. There appeared, all too briefly, a disc of her solo piano music, and this is crying out for a new recording.

Then followed many songs, of which her Betjeman settings are well known, and works for small instrumental groups.  There is no grouping of flute, oboe and piano who does not play her invigorating Trio. Her music is so full of wit, humour and energy, and is written with such skill, that it never ceases to delight.  Her nearest male-equivalent would be Poulenc.

The works presented here are all her works for piano duet or two pianos, all played here on two pianos. Danza Gaya (1965) gives the work its title and gets the CD off to a rousing start, but of the short works my favourite is the Tarantelle (1947) which really has the feel of a devil’s dance, and a naughty devil at that. Caribbean Dance (Tempo Tobago) from 1959 was clearly written with Benjamin’s Jamaican Rumba in mind and is great fun. 

The two sizeable works are the Fantastic Variations on Lilliburlero for Two Pianos (1945), and the Sonata for two pianos (1951).  The three-movement variations take the well-known tune and put it through all sorts of hoops. Abrupt, jokey key changes in number one, a night club blues in number two, and a madcap chase in the finale, before disappearing into the ether. She admired Milhaud’s Scaramouche and we can hear it here.

The Sonata is seldom played, and the liner notes indicate it was poorly reviewed at its première.  This is unfortunate as it is a good work.  The first movement perhaps overdoes the dramatic dotted rhythms too much, but the second elegy, and the final toccata, never outstay their welcome. The finale has all the bustle and energy of Martinu about it and ends far too soon. 

The shorter works by Dorothy Howell and the little-known Pamela Harrison are performed with aplomb.

Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi are an expert piano duo, and the works could not wish for better interpreters.  The sound is as exemplary as we have come to expect from Lyrita.  Spring seems to be late this year so If you want to bring a little sunshine into life, buy this disc.

Review by Paul RW Jackson