Thursday 7 March 2024

Danza Gaya: Simon Callaghan & Hiroaki Takenouchi play with wonderful elan & relish, clearly having a great deal of fun

Danza gaya: music for two pianos - Madeleine Dring, Dorothy Howell, Pamela Harrison; Simon Callaghan, Hiroaki Takenouchi; LYRITA

Danza gaya: music for two pianos - Madeleine Dring, Dorothy Howell, Pamela Harrison; Simon Callaghan, Hiroaki Takenouchi; LYRITA

Three 20th-century English women composers, thirteen pieces all virtually unknown; Simon Callaghan & Hiroaki Takenouchi take us on an engagingly enjoyable exploration

None of the composers on pianists Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi's new disc are well enough known. Danza gaya on the Lyrita label features delightful music for two pianos by three women from 20th century English music, Madeleine Dring, Dorothy Howell and Pamela Harrison.

We open with a group of pieces by Dring. Something of a child prodigy, Dring's time at the Royal College of Music would include lessons with Howells and Vaughan Williams, but her interests were wider and much of her working life was in theatre and cabaret. There is a lightness to a lot of her music that belies its fine craftsmanship and has, I think, rather mitigated against its appreciation. Callaghan and Takenouchi begin with the captivating, Danza Gaya, then the deceptively frothy Valse française, a lively Italian Dance that evokes Arthur Benjamin and as does the altogether delightful Caribbean Dance.

Next comes Dorothy Howell. Again something of a prodigy with her symphonic poem Lamia premiered at the Proms in 1919 (when she was all of 21). But though Howell kept up a significant output, in later life her profile was less prominent as she focused on teaching and performance. First of we hear her 1934 piece, Recuerdos Preciosos (Precious Memories), written after a trip to Barcelona, the first movement all laid-back heat and the quiet cool of the cloister in the cathedral, the second a lively evocation of a busy amusement park. The first response to these engaging pieces is why has it taken so long for pianists to bring them to our attention.

Pamela Harrison studied with Gordon Jacob and Arthur Benjamin, her finely crafted tonally-based music gradually going out of fashion in the post-war climate. Her Six Dances is a relatively late work, from 1976, originally written for a friend who had taken up the piano late in life. Written for piano duet, it is played on two pianos here. Six contrasting, delightful movements where Harrison's ear is deceptive, the outward conventionality and charm of the music being underpinned by sly wit.

We then return to Dring for her Sonata for two pianos. Relatively unusual in her output being a large-scale formal sonata, it was not well received and her subsequent writing for two pianos concentrated on the lighter and more upbeat. The first movement, marked Drammatico e maestoso begins grandly and seriously, but there is still a lyricism to her writing too. The result, perhaps, tries too hard but it is certainly striking. This is followed by the quietly intense Élégie. Sotto voce, with things rounded off by a perkily upbeat Allegro Vigoroso. And in all three movements, Dring's fondness for using the genre of two pianists and two pianos to create fistfuls of notes is rather noticeable.

Dring's Three for Two features three dances for two pianos, all written as teaching pieces. The first delightfully period, the second elegantly evocative, and the third a perky delight; I cannot imagine teaching being any more engaging than this. Taranetelle is, as you might expect, fast, furious and fun. Definitely not a teaching piece. We return to teaching with Four Duets, all four big on character and charm, Dring achieving her ends with minimal complication.

Howell's Mazurka was also used for teaching, here the didactic wears its learning lightly and we get a wonderfully characterful piece that deserves to be danced to. Howell's Spindrift is clearly designed for more technically adept pianists, a feather-light whirlwind that was one of her most popular pieces during her lifetime. Dring's altogether quirkily imaginative Three Fantastic Variations on Lilliburlero brings the disc to a close.

This disc brings together music by three women composers whose output has been somewhat side-lined because their music did not fit with post-war musical orthodoxies. They had the misfortune to be women, writing music that was tonal, approachable and, in some cases, with a distinct whiff of light music. We are learning to better know. Callaghan and Takenouchi play with wonderful elan and relish, clearing enjoying the sound-worlds and having a great deal of fun. And they must be thanked for digging up these treasures.

Madeleine Dring (1923-1977) - Danza Gaya (1964)
Madeleine Dring - Valse française (pub. 1980)
Madeleine Dring - Italian dance (1960)
Madeleine Dring - Caribbean dance (1959)
Dorothy Howell (1898-1982) - Recuerdos Preciosos (1934?)
Pamela Harrison (1915-1990) - Dance Little Lady for piano duet (1976)
Madeleine Dring - Sonata for two pianos (1951)
Madeleine Dring - Three for Two
Madeleine Dring - Tarantelle
Madeleine Dring - Four Duets
Dorothy Howell - Mazurka
Dorothy Howell - Spindrift
Madeleine Dring - Three Fantastic Variations on Lilliburlero 
Simon Callaghan (piano)
Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano)
Recorded at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK 29-31 August 2023
LYRITA SRCD 433 4 1CD [73:39]

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