Saturday, 18 February 2017

Introduction and fugue: CD launch with RVW rarity

Mark Bebbington & Rebeca Omordia at Schott Music
Mark Bebbington & Rebeca Omordia at Schott Music
Mark Bebbington's new disc of piano music by RVW on SOMM contains something of a surprise, the Introduction and Fugue for two pianos. Not yet another early work being rediscovered, but prime RVW dating from 1949 yet the work has only ever appeared on disc once before and this is its first CD outing. Last night, 17 February 2017, Mark Bebbington and his piano duo partner Rebeca Omordia played the work at the launch of the CD in the recital room at Schott Music in Great Marlborough Street. Bebbington and Omordia also gave us another rarity from the disc, RVW and Maurice Jacobson's two piano arrangement of the Tallis Fantasia which also dates from the 1940s.

The Introduction and Fugue was written for piano duo team of Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith, the couple had given the first performance of RVW's Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (the 1946 revision to the Piano Concerto) and they premiered the Introduction and Fugue in 1949. There is an interesting link between Sellick and Smith and the SOMM recording. Siva Oke, who runs SOMM, was a pupil of Cyril Smith, whilst pianist Mark Bebbington was a pupil of Phyllis Sellick.

At the CD launch Mark Bebbington talked about his time with Phyllis Sellick. She was a lively 91 year old at the time, and over lunch after his lessons he persuaded her to talk about the past and working with some of the great British composers. Mark thought that whilst RVW was a great friend, the music of RVW that Smith and Sellick loved was the RVW of The Lark Ascending and Tallis Fantasia rather than the tougher RVW of the Symphony No. 4. And he felt that Sellick had reservations about the Introduction and Fugue. Though she and Smith played it, they did not do so extensively, and Sellick does not seem to have recommended the work to any of her students.

The result is that no major UK piano duo team has performed the work, and despite being published in 1949 it has seemed to languish. When the SOMM disc was being planned, it was thought that the recording of the Introduction and Fugue would be the first recording, though in fact it was issued on vinyl many year ago. It is a very sophisticated work, lasting well over 15 minutes and the fugue develops into a double fugue (thus giving the lie to RVW's protective covering as an 'amateurish composer').

That Maurice Jacobson and RVW's arrangement of the Tallis Fantasia dates from the same period is very telling. In some ways it is an unlikely transcription, but the result brings remarkable clarity and insight into the piece.

The Piano Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams - Mark bebbington and Rebeca Omordia - SOMM, available from Amazon.co.uk

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