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Penelope Cave Panorama CD

Little-known
harpsichord gems -
strongly recommended
by ALICE McVEIGH

'... succeeds utterly, as does the immaculately sensitive [Penelope] Cave.'

Panorama 1919-2013 - Penelope Cave. © 2016 primafacie

This is a fantastic collection of little-known gems, selected, performed (and in one case actually dedicated to) British harpsichordist Penelope Cave.

It ranges from a Delius work written in 1919 to the ravishing Le Panorama en Rondeau (2013) by Raymond Head. The works are presented in order of composition, but — and I found this strange — the CD doesn't feel 'bitty' — not at all — indeed, it has a wonderful ebb and flow, either because of the pieces chosen, or because of the marvellous variety Cave brings to them, or both. It's a lovely CD just to put on and let wash over you.

However, the works, as well as the soloist, deserve consideration in greater detail.

Starting with Delius' piquant Dance for Harpsichord, we then have a first recording, of a morceau by Holst (A Piece for Yvonne) in 7/4 time. This is followed by four selections from Herbert Howells' delightful Lambert's Clavichord. According to Cave's lively programme notes, Howells apparently said, 'Ralph Vaughan Williams had a theory that I was the reincarnation of one of the lesser Tudor luminaries' and — if true — then R V W at that point rang the bell, entitling himself to cigar or coconut, according to choice ... Particularly notable here are overtones of Tudor lutes. The harmonies are affectionately archaic and quirky, while Cave's performance is so effervescent that one can almost imagine Anne Boleyn at Hever, dancing.

Listen — Howells: Hughes's Ballet (Lambert's Clavichord)
(track 6, 0:25-0:58) © 2016 primafacie :

The next work is a bourrée by the delightfully entitled Anthony Freskyn Charles Hamby Chaplin, 3rd Viscount. Described by Penelope Cave as an 'unapologetic pastiche of a Scarlatti Sonata' it sounds a great deal of fun to play, while Cave does its moments of elegance full justice.

Listen — Anthony Freskyn Charles Hamby Chaplin: Bourrée for Harpsichord
(track 7, 0:33-1:18) © 2016 primafacie :

Herbert Murrill's French Suite (1938) is a very different work: heavily ornamented, extremely showy and possessed of a more pugnacious stylishness, coupled with astringent Stravinskyisms.The Air sérieux has a nostalgic beauty, and indeed the whole work for me possesses a suitably autumnal, eve-of-war feel, through which the virtuosic finale slices clean as a knife. (This was composed for Marcelle de Lacour, who must have been an immensely talented player.)

Listen — Herbert Murrill: Final (Suite Française)
(track 12, 0:00-0:36) © 2016 primafacie :

Arnold Bax features next, his incidental music, Dance from the Golden Eagle has a vaguely celtic feel, featuring wonderfully unaffected playing from Cave.

Geoffrey Bush's Three Dance Variations is an interesting but slightly flawed work: Bush appears divided, a sense of romanticism struggling with old style form. At times cerebral, at other times suddenly lush, it's a bit of a puzzle, yet Cave does it full justice, particularly in the more yearning passages.

It's followed by Thomas Baron Pitfield's sprightly Toccatina (the Birds). The composer admits, 'A few rhythms and thematic morsels have been borrowed from the chaffinch, yellow-hammer, tits and others.' This work is a marvellous esprit, and would make a great encore, being quirky and eccentrically English, evoking a showy bird left on a branch, flying away, returning to the battle, whether amorous or furious ... I loved it.

Listen — Thomas Baron Pitfield: Toccatina (The Birds)
(track 15, 2:00-2:54) © 2016 primafacie :

Cave selected two of Stephen Dodgson's Inventions (1961) which made me wish she'd done the lot! Both were extremely interesting. Invention 5 (Lento molto espressivo) is moody and thoughtful, nervily atmospheric, plangent, spare, and extremely effective. Cave drifts off into introspection, making the upwardly reaching then falling intervals sound almost improvised. Invention 6 (Scherzando) is original and thought-provoking, almost jazzy in places, with a casually tossed-off end.

Alan Bullard's Air and Gigue is instantly appealing, reminiscent perhaps of classy French film music. It's followed by the most experimental works on the CD, written in 1975 by Janetta Gould, with titles based on crossword clues. Intriguing, clever and amusing, Parrot on a tuning Note 'does battle until it finally reaches a resting place'. Gould wrote that it is 'a Baroque version of the dance, exploiting repetitions, parrot fashion.' I can describe it no better than that. A Match for the devil, by contrast, features tritones, note clusters, sudden car crashes, queries and contemplation — swirls of sound and crushed chords. In terms of the CD, it's rather like a refreshing sorbet between courses.

Listen — Janetta Gould: A Match for the devil (Fun' F, airs for Harpsichord
(track 21, 0:00-0:40) © 2016 primafacie :

Peter Maxwell Davies' liltingly caressing Farewell to Stromness (1980) evokes a wild Scottish beauty, inspired by a possible threat to Orkney's Stromness, then threatened by Uranium mining pollution — which, thankfully, never happened.

Listen — Peter Maxwell Davies: Farewell to Stromness (The Yellow Cake Review)
(track 22, 0:00-1:00) © 2016 primafacie :

Yesnaby Ground is another mini-masterpiece, featuring a heavy rustic 'ground' upon which Cave zestfully relishes the rather jazzy riffs firing, fiddle-like, over the top.

Raymond Head features next, another composer with a wonderful feel for the harpsichord. Le Mystere is atonal, mysterious, with notes randomly disappearing up higher and higher, until the whole coalesces upon an insistence on a single note. In Le rappel de l'humanite an appealingly offbeat cheekiness alternates with a perpetuum mobile feel, together with a freer and more improvisatory section.

Head's Sema Mavlana was actually written for Penelope Cave. Inspired by whirling dervishes (although Head stresses that 'within the whirling there is a feeling of inner stability') its minimalist wit is answered by moments of near-harplike repose. Cave relishes the subtle inner lines even within the hectic passage-work.

Again, a total contrast! Colin Hand's Delius's Disappointment ('upon hearing no cuckoo last spring') works beautifully, in harmonic minor mode.

Which brings us to Raymond Head's Le Panorama en Rondeau (2013). This stunning work feels traditional — despite being in the metre 5:7:3 — yet according to Head it opposes the 'endless desire for change in Western music. Stasis and tranquillity is what I wanted to retrieve; variety is implicit, like ripples on a gentle river.'

Listen — Raymond Head: Le Panorama en Rondeau
(track 28, 3:04-4:19) © 2016 primafacie :

And I'm here to report that the work succeeds utterly, as does the immaculately sensitive Cave. The sense of orient in the harmonies — there is a real touch of the raga — the upwardly aspiring notes above the reassurance in the bass ... As for the metre, it imbues the whole with a sense of endlessness and the rush of the world put to rest.

A marvellous achievement altogether, from a marvellous musician.

This CD is strongly recommended.

Copyright © 29 November 2016 Alice McVeigh,
Kent UK

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PANORAMA 1919-2013 - PENELOPE CAVE

PENELOPE CAVE

HARPSICHORD MUSIC

FREDERICK DELIUS

GUSTAV HOLST

HERBERT HOWELLS

ARNOLD BAX

STEPHEN DODGSON

PETER MAXWELL DAVIES

20TH CENTURY

CONTEMPORARY MUSIC

UNITED KINGDOM

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