- piano music from Wales TCR025
Zoë Smith, piano
Yn Welsh Impressions mae’r pianydd Zoë Smith yn datgelu gemau anghyfarwydd y repertoire Cymreig i’r piano gan amrywiaeth o leisiau cyfansoddol. Mae’r casgliad yn cynnwys cerddoriaeth 13 o gyfansoddwyr Cymreig, y rhan fwyaf ohonynt yn cael eu recordio yma am y tro cyntaf: o hyfedredd Fictoraidd Henry Brinley Richards a llais trawiadol y Morfydd Owen ifanc, drwy ramant Meirion Williams, i fydoedd sain unigryw Grace Williams a Mervyn Burtch.
In Welsh Impressions pianist Zoë Smith reveals little-known gems of Welsh piano repertoire from a range of compositional voices. The collection features the music of 13 Welsh composers, most of which is recorded here for the first time: from the Victorian virtuosity of Henry Brinley Richards and the striking voice of a young Morfydd Owen, through the romance of Meirion Williams, to the singular soundworlds of Grace Williams and Mervyn Burtch.
Find more information on the composers by clicking their names below. The titles link to the sheet music.
4. Beti Bwt
13. Suo Gân – arr. George Mantle Childe [notes]
16. La Casse-noisette (France)
17. Paiduska Makedonska (Macedonia)
18. Tropanka (Bulgaria)
19. Broad Sound
20. Channel Saint
21. The Inner Light
22. A Song of Sleep
23. The Mask of Pity
25. Allegro con brio
27. Allegro con brio
Ochr yn ochr i’r albwm yma, rydym wrth ein boddau i gynhyrchu llyfrynnau newydd o’r sgoriau sy'n ffurfio rhan o'r repertoire sy ar y record.
Alongside this release, we’re delighted to have produced companion sheet music editions of some of the repertoire featured on the record.
Tracks 5-8 © Stainer & Bell Ltd
Track 9 © Oxford University Press
Track 10 © Oriana Publications
Track 13 © Oxford University Press
Track 14 © Estate of Meirion Williams
Track 15 © Estate of Dilys Elwyn-Edwards
Tracks 19-24 © Mansel Thomas Trust
Tracks 25-27 © Mervyn Burtch Trust
Track notes written by Zoë Smith:
Four Welsh Impressions: Morfydd Llwyn Owen
The piano music of Morfydd Owen is heartfelt, at times brooding but always expressive, inspired by her love of places and people. These four miniatures are no exception. Composed during 1914 and 1915, while still a composition student at the Royal Academy of Music, they share with us Morfydd’s attachment to her closest friends and particular locations.
The first of the Impressions has three possible titles: Prelude in F sharp minor, Llanbrynmair (her father’s birth place and frequent holiday destination) or Waiting for Eirlys (her close friend and fellow composition student who was always late). Whether the piece portrays the majesty of the mid-Wales landscape or Morfydd’s resignation at Eirlys’s tardiness, it is fully of yearning – expressed beautifully in the opening solo line, which returns at the end to close the piece - and solemnity, using a repeated slow sarabande figure to build to a passionate climax, exploiting the extremes of dynamics on the piano.
Glantaf follows, reflecting the views of the River Taff from Morfydd’s home in Treforest. It is quite melancholy in nature and has resonances of the composer’s growing interest in Russian folk-music through its simple chordal presentation. Poignant pauses contribute to an evocative soundscape.
Morfydd again acknowledges friends with Nant-y-Ffrith, a beauty-spot with rivers, waterfalls and woods near Wrexham, close to the home of Mina Williams. The flowing, peaceful opening is followed by a fanfare like fortissimo passage, immediately contrasted by a pianissimo version. Morfydd plays with these substantial dynamic contrasts throughout, creating a sense of an impassioned conversation that changes direction swiftly, until the music finally ebbs away.
The fourth Impression is Beti Bwt (as a Minuet and Trio), referring to the nickname of a close friend, the music bursting forth from the lowest register of the keyboard. This piece is full of Chopin-like textures, requiring the pianist to play “Daintily” in the dance, respecting the phrasing, articulation and tempo changes indicated in the score. Morfydd moves from the minor Minuet to the major Trio, using syncopation to create quiet excitement, before the return to Minuet, which resolves into the major key for its final lines.
This is a tender set of pieces, demonstrating sophisticated knowledge of piano writing, but using simplicity to enhance their eloquent and impassioned portraits.
The Seasons: Cyril Jenkins
Described by Trevor Herbert as “efficient and extremely prolific”, Cyril Jenkins composed his Op 186 The Seasons during his service in World War I, seeing them published in 1917. He courted controversy through his strongly-expressed opinions about the Welsh musical scene, considering it to be backwards-looking and insular, which, when one considers Jenkins’s own compositional style is somewhat ironic. These views led to his ambition to be recognised in Wales being consistently frustrated.
For the pianist, The Seasons fall under the fingers easily, and the four miniatures create a satisfying suite, exploring colourful textures and figurations which use the piano’s possibilities to the full. The structures and harmonic journeys are quite traditional, but they allow Jenkins to create a clear framework that enhances the listener’s experience. Each movement is preceded by a short excerpt of poetry to set the scene.
Spring – Edmund Spenser:
So forth issued the Seasons of the year:
First, lusty Spring, all dight in leaves of flowers
That freshly budded, and new blooms did bear,
In which a thousand birds had built their bowers.
Jenkins establishes a murmuring right hand at the start, allowing the left hand to carry the gentle melody initially, before transferring it to the treble to build over the harmonies. The impassioned central section moves through a range of textures and motifs, towards a set of high trills over the opening melody, before resolving back to a return of the opening material. The movement closes with a dialogue based on the theme, eventually dying away in sustained chords and a peaceful arpeggio up to the final chord.
Summer – Edmund Spenser:
Then came the jolly Summer, being dight
In a thin silken cassock – coloured green.
A change of mood and pace, with a slightly breathless opening theme, pushing forward through dotted rhythms, triplet turns and chromatic runs, supported by restless left hand arpeggio figures. Combining these ideas with a marcato Scotch snap motifs, Jenkins moves through a range of keys and emotions towards the highpoint of a set of delicate alternating chords, bringing us back to the opening material. The movement closes with a set of broken chords moving upwards and extending the return to the home key.
Autumn – Christina Rosetti:
Summer is gone with all its roses,
Its sun and perfume and sweet flowers,
Its warm air and refreshing showers;
And even Autumn closes;
Summer is gone.
This movement begins slow and sadly, with a heavy mood of regret expressed through the eloquent melody in octaves answered by offbeat chords. Jenkins increases the tension through accompanying sextuplets and growing dynamics, transitioning into a warmer middle section, with a rich Romantic feel. Again, he ratchets up the emotion, moving through harmonies with an accelerando to a fortissimo climax at the top of the piano’s registers, moving down to the bass invoking exclamatory gestures before subsiding into a return of the opening material, to mourn the passing of Summer.
Winter – Edmund Spenser:
Lastly came Winter, clothed all in frize
Chattering his teeth for cold that did him chill.
A simple but bleak pastoral solo opens this movement, answered by pensive cadences, building through diminished arpeggios to murmuring chords and settling again into thoughtful mode. Suddenly an agitated allegro bursts on to the scene, moving through harmonies and gaining volume until it reaches its chattering height with a fiery outburst and bell-like chords preparing us for a return to the pastoral mood and a resigned acceptance of Winter’s all-pervading cold.
Welsh Folk-Dances: E T Davies
Writing in 1948, E T Davies declared that native folk song was one of the key foundations on which a truly Welsh musical art could be built. It is therefore no surprise that he drew on three Welsh dance-tunes to create this short piano piece, clearly intended to accompany dancers. It formed Volume 17 of the Oxford University Press Folk Dances of the World series. The tunes featured are: Mae nhw’n d’wedyd (They said), a penillion tune with refrain from the Welsh Folk Song Society Journal of 1925; Hob y dylif (The Porpoise) published in 1794 by Edward Jones; Y Gwr a’i Farch (Horse and Jockey) from John Parry’s 1839 collection. Davies surrounds the original folk material with pianistic gestures and flourishes, but presents the dance tunes with clarity and style. We move from a four-square staccato theme to a “frisky” compound motif, finishing with a spirited triple metre, joined together by linking material that builds a sense of expectation – what will happen next? The final tune develops more virtuosic lines, exploring a wide range of dynamics and finishing with a challenging accelerando through a descending scale to the final arpeggiated chord. Within these six pages, E T Davies evokes perfectly the sights and sounds of Dawns Werin at the Eisteddfod.
The Silent Pool: Grace Williams
Written in 1932, after Grace Williams had completed studies in Vienna, this work provides an insight into her experiments with compositional style. It was written at a similar time to the Sonatina for flute and piano which was published by Tŷ Cerdd and it shares some of the same gestures and musical language. Little is written about this piece, but since Williams was known for her love of the sea and Welsh mythology, it is only a short step to imagine that the music describes a dark body of water, across which a boat is moving, creating more and more intense ripples which then die away. At the start of the piece, the soundscape is sparse, moving around semitones and augmented fourths to unsettle the listener. Williams uses canon and contrary motion to establish growth towards an almost menacing heartbeat in the bass over chromatic cluster chords and a faster ostinato rhythm. She repeats the material, adding in an almost ethereal melody above and increasing the tempo and dynamic to reach an outburst that heralds a winding-down, bringing back motifs concisely until we reach the sparser textures of the opening. The music, like the ripples, dissipates even further with octaves split by augmented fourths left to fade into the distance.
Allegro Vivace in D: D Vaughan Thomas
The Allegro Vivace was published in the last year of David Vaughan Thomas's life, which was tragically cut short by an accident while on an examining tour in South Africa. Vaughan Thomas was highly respected for his compositional style which formed a bridge between the Victorian era and more modern approaches. This piano piece embraces traditional textures and styles reminiscent of Heller’s studies, but uses unexpected intervals to create movement and develop the material. It is energetic and maintains momentum throughout, drawing new ideas out of old ones and generating excitement by introducing faster figurations, particularly in the final flourishes. It never moves far from its home key, but it takes us on a journey through contrasting moments of elegance and drama.
Prelude "St Tudno”: T Osborne Roberts
Thomas Osborne Roberts wrote this Prelude to be played at a meeting of the St Tudno Masonic Lodge in Llandudno, shortly before his death in 1948. According to a note left by Leila Megáne, the Prelude was the last piece he ever played on their piano – “all dressed up ready to leave for Liverpool. His last touch.”
It is a solemn, melancholy piece, not at all fanfare like, rather drawing on quiet reflection to shape the music. Osborne Roberts creates contrasts of texture, with slow moving chords in different registers, almost hymn-like, answered by a more fluid descending line. He transitions into a more urgent atmosphere building into an upwards flourish that disturbs the metre on its way to its peak. He responds with a restatement of the opening material, bringing the piece to a close with organ-like textures resolving in a peaceful major chord.
Suo-Gân (Welsh Lullaby): arr. George Mantle Childe
English concert pianist George Mantle Childe penned this arrangement of the beautiful Suo-Gân in 1949, dedicating it to his friend/colleague, Alice Johnson. Well known on the chamber music recital circuit, he took the Welsh melody and created a gently atmospheric interpretation, challenging the pianist through its control of textures and ability to voice the melody, whatever may be happening around it. Whilst the first verse is underpinned by traditional chord sequences, with a short cadenza-like flourish before the final line, Mantle Childe then takes us on a journey through chromatic harmonies with an almost Wagnerian cadence before resolving to the opening textures, repeating the final chords simply and clearly to end.
Nocturne in A flat Major: Meirion Williams
Another piece that cannot be dated amongst a prolific catalogue of songs, this work emerged from combining two manuscripts together: an incomplete version, provided by Meirion Williams’s daughter Nerys and a semi-legible photocopy of the completed version from the Tŷ Cerdd archives, which necessitated several hours with a ruler, pencil and rubber to recreate the staves. Bringing this previously unheard work to life was a complete honour and total joy, particularly when it became clear how gloriously Romantic this music is.
The Nocturne is in ABA form, whereby the outer sections share the same tranquil, reflective material. The middle section seems to be influenced by Rachmaninov, with epic arpeggios underpinning expansive and eloquent melodies. These build to a heroic climax, emphatically releasing pent-up energy and returning us to the more transparent song-like material. Presented for the second time, its figurations are richer and more urgent, resolving into a coda that is both sonorous and gratifying. The Nocturne explores a wide range of colours and textures, showing complete ease from Williams with writing idiomatically for the piano.
The first public performance of this piece was given at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst on 4th August 2019.
Lullaby: Dilys Elwyn-Edwards
The year of composition of this gem is unknown, with the manuscript undated. Its style is lyrical and vocal, highly reminiscent of the pleasing musical language of Dilys Elwyn-Edwards's treasured songs. A gentle rocking is established at the outset – listen out for the tiny grace notes that flicker within the texture. A flexible melody sings out over the top and a ray of light emerges as the harmonies move briefly to the major and then return to the original minor key, creating a wistfulness and sense of longing. The material develops a sense of urgency, exploring different registers and rising up to a high pause. The rocking is re-established, this time with a chordal left-hand accompaniment and more insistent melody in octaves. It builds again in the same way, moving upwards, answered by a downwards figure and a beautiful pair of chords, with the flickering grace notes anticipating the final resolution.
Three Folk Dances: Eiluned Davies
Eiluned Davies was active as a concert pianist throughout her career, performing with several London orchestras and giving premieres of many piano works by composers including Grace Williams. She was herself a composer, writing song, choral and piano works (solo, four- and six-hand), and at least one of these Folk Dance arrangements exists in a version for piano duet. The year of composition is unknown.
The Traditional French Dance, La Casse-Noisette (or The Nutcracker) is a lively spikey piece, re-setting a straightforward triple-time melody with an interesting set of harmonies and punctuating the telling with quirky textures. Moving to Macedonia, Davies establishes five-in-a-bar with an offbeat left hand under the traditional ornamented melody; she experiments with the accompanying figures, using moving semiquavers to create a more virtuouso atmosphere, contrasting it directly with a staccato bass countermelody in the next section. Semiquavers return for the final version, as they disappear into the distance at the close. The Traditional Bulgarian Dance, Tropanka, is energetic and simple, with a mostly two-part texture throughout, playing with and answering the themes. Davies uses contrasts of registers and dynamics to shape the piece, finishing with a grand affimatory allargando.
Six Song Preludes for Piano: Mansel Thomas
The note in the score of this set of pieces states that they date from July 1978, dedicated to pianist and composer Ronald Stevenson, “with admiration”. The music is drawn from six songs written in 1975 and 1976, and each prelude is prefaced with a short quotation taken from the original poem set. Mansel Thomas is far away from his settings of Welsh themes here, with much of the music quite dark in character and drawing on a range of modernist idioms. The inclusion of the texts serves as a starting point for defining more clearly the image that could be portrayed by the music.
Broad Sound – John Stuart Williams
Oak beak, ribbed prow,
Flat strakes thonged against
Rough tug of corded sea.
A spirited dotted rhythm is established from the start, suggesting the “heave-ho” of a crew rowing in a large galley. The pace is maintained throughout, with some rhythmic variation and considered use of repetition to build an effective dynamic arc, which eventually fades away as if into the distance.
Channel Saint – Roland Mathias
Tower, nave in disarray
Landervennec was a day,
Ghost whose ripple sent the Word
Like a fish away
Here, Mansel Thomas creates a light and quirky waltz, playing with phrasing and chromatic parallel fourths, sometimes landing on ‘traditional’ chords and at other times moving through clusters and bitonality. He plays with the metre briefly and moves through staccato figures towards a unison legato exclamation, swiftly returning to the waltz material to end with wry humour. Perhaps the repeated use of motifs relates to the recurring sound “ay” at the end of all but one of the lines of the poetry.
The Inner Light – Idris Davies
Unto the promised haven
The tribes of Israel came,
Weary and thirsty and angry
And Moses bore the blame
Marked “Solemnly”, this prelude opens with ponderous chords exploring chromatic changes in chords from bar to bar, before the texture gains pace and volume, all the while moving stepwise through harmonies. Dotted rhythms become more and more present, creating a moment of declamation before the opening textures return to bring us through clusters and added notes to a bare octave and fifth at the end.
A Song of Sleep – Alun Lewis
With joy my heart
This lullaby should be played “with grace and elegance”, with a rocking rhythm dominating the fluid metre. Again, chromatic harmonies and added notes flavour the music, with dynamic shaping enhancing the expressivity of this piece.
The Mask of Pity – Bryn Griffiths
The valley’s face is hidden. Snow has fallen.
Masking the ruptured lips of the slagged earth.
Both the text and the mechanical nature of the writing call to mind the scarring of the Welsh landscape through mining. A left hand figure of slurred chords underpins the music of the opening, with careful rising chords in the right hand. The central section builds semiquaver figurations in the right hand, but these still imply motorisation, above an accompaniment that is sometimes urgent, sometimes resigned, ultimately moving towards an outpouring of grief in repeated accented chords. Mansel Thomas then
recreates the left hand figure, sculpting an ascending and descending line of triads in the right hand, until the music comes to rest, conflicted in its tonality.
Èze-Sur-Mer – Idris Davies
The jewelled sea,
the orange east,
the purpled road
to the fabled beast.
There is a Gallic flavour to this Prelude, reminiscent of the musical style of Poulenc in his songs. The moto perpetuo feel carries us through changing time signatures, exploring eccentric left hand melodies with right hand semiquaver accompaniment, moving on to block chord moments and back again to opening textures. Throughout, wit and vivacity shine through, almost as brightly as the jewelled sea this piece portrays.
Sonatina No 5 – Mervyn Burtch
In 2005, I had the honour of recording works for the Tŷ Cerdd Mervyn Burtch disc; a chat with Mervyn about his piano compositions led to the unexpected appearance and dedication of this Sonatina, the fifth in his set of eight (which date from 1969 to 2013). It has been a joy to perform and to record, a reminder of a warm and generous composer, who wrote music to be played and enjoyed by performers and audiences alike.
The first movement is an Allegro con brio; as the title suggests, it is full of energy, moving between rhythms and metres as if it can never be pinned down. A regular flow is established for a time, but the music is frequently nudged into different patterns, creating an unsettled but exciting atmosphere, where no-one knows quite what will happen next. Burtch plays with pairs of whole tones and chains of major thirds, as well as dominating the texture with semitones and chromaticisms. Frequent dynamic contrasts and varied articulations add to the intensity, with a recap of the opening material leading us into a short coda and an emphatic close.
The central movement is the longest in the Sonatina, marked Lento and creating a set of transparent and, at times, static textures. The introductory section uses changes of register to contrast clusters that move in similar and contrary motion, almost crawling through the tonalities. This takes us into the main material of the movement where each hand has the same material two octaves apart, playing an outer melody and an answering counter-melody in unison, almost mournfully. The middle section moves out of this into faster figurations, still chromatic, exploring all registers and moving forward insistently to fortissimo repeated accents. The octave unisons return, unwinding the music through to a pair of open fifths.
The finale is another Allegro con brio, but with more of a moto perpetuo feel, particularly in the opening and closing pages where semiquaver chromatic runs drive the music forward. Thereafter the music settles for the most part into four beats in a bar, varying quaver generated patterns with more poised crotchet movement under an idiosyncratic dotted melody, in amongst utterances of syncopation, accented moments and question and answer motifs. The ensuing drive to the end rises through unison semiquaver runs to higher impassioned offbeat chords back down to repeated cluster chords and a resounding final flourish.
Juanita: Henry Brinley Richards
A distinguished piano virtuoso of his time, Henry Brinley Richards, also known as “the Welsh propagandist”, was at one point a pupil of Chopin. Elements of this influence can be seen in his themes and variations, a favoured form in salons in that period, many of which take Welsh songs as their starting point. This particular work is based on Juanita, a popular song written by Caroline Sheridan Norton, a transcription of which was published by Chappell and Co in 1858. Brinley Richards sets the scene with a flamboyant introduction before presenting the theme and beginning the process of varying its treatment. He experiments with voicing, texture, register and dynamic to create a fun exploration of the original song, which ends with a spirited coda, racing through to the end, towards trimphant final chords. A perfect encore piece.