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Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen

Last night's main Prom featured Ashley Wass playing the RVW piano concerto. I first met Ashley Wass when I interviewed him as part of the publicity for his first volume of Bax piano works on Naxos. During the interview conversation veered towards Harriet Cohen who was Bax's mistress and for whom he wrote a number of his piano works. RVW also wrote his piano concerto for her. Though she evidently found both the Bax and the RVW works tricky because both wrote large chords which were awkward with Cohen's small hands.

RVW and Bax were also 2 of the composers who contributed to A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen, this was a volume of Bach transcriptions by RVW, Bax, Bantock, Ireland, Bliss, Berners, Bridge, Howells, Goossens, Lambert, Walton and Whittaker. To a certain extent the selection of composers was dictated by the response of the composers; Elgar said he would do something and then failed to deliver, Holst said he couldn't find anything he wanted to arrange and didn't fancy writing for the piano. I first came across the book in the late 1970's when the Scottish composer/pianist Ronald Stevenson included a couple of the pieces in his lecture recital on Bach transcriptions. The recital also included Grainger transcriptions and finished with the Bach/Busoni Chaconne. I remember the RVW transcription as being a curious amalgam of typical RVW harmonies with Bach.

You can find 4 of the pieces on Angela Hewitt's Hyperion disc of Bach transcriptions. There she says that not all are of equal quality, but it would be fascinating to hear them all together, if only once.

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