ELISABETH LUTYENS (1906-1983): Piano Works, Vol. 1 - 7 Preludes, Op. 116, The Great Seas, Op. 132, 5 Impromptus, Op. 116, Plenum I, Op. 86, La natura dell’Acqua, Op. 154.
Catalogue Number: 11X048
Label: Resonus Classics
Description: Was there ever as unrepentant a lifelong modernist - or one so dedicated to the sensuous, poetic, emotive potential of atonal music - as Lutyens, the composer who coined the term "cowpat school", inveighed against "folky-wolky modal melodies" and chided her students for "boring tonal references" if she unearthed an accidental major or minor triad in their compositions? Boulez, maybe, but few others. The works here on Vol.1 are all relatively late, the earliest being Plenum I (signifying a silent space filled up with sound, emptied out, and refilled) of 1972. Notated without barlines and with some economically used extended techniques, the piece is representative of Lutyens greater freedom of notation in later years, though strictly organised with note-rows and in her favourite palindromic form. Notated silence is increasingly important in later works, especially the spare, though amply expressive, La Natura dell’Acqua, her last work for piano. Detached phrases and gestures - many delicate and bejewelled, some aggressive and strident - combine in an abstract but expressive way that the composer likened to the late, non-figurative paintings of Turner. An even better example of this is the marvelously descriptive The Great Seas, an 18-minute tone poem hailed by Michael Finnissy (who premiered it) for its "sensuality … delicacy and fluidity" but also "violence, darkness and pain", which predominantly gives the impression of vast, calm expanses illuminated by constantly changing lighting conditions, but intermittently and graphically hints at the extreme violence of deep currents and suddenly flaring storms. The Preludes are a perfect summation of Lutyens' piano writing; bearing evocative titles (three of them from Keats), they are highly expressive and descriptive, the shade of Debussy detectable in the background. Although the composer preferred French clarity, lucidity, and elegance to what she saw as heavyweight German Expressionism, two of these pieces - "Strange Thunders …" and "The Shifting of Mighty Winds …" are notable for their muscular, aggressive energy. The earlier Impromptus are the most unabashedly, dissonantly atonal works here; succinct and compressed, they sound like passionate, extrovert derivatives of Webernian economy. Martin Jones (piano).