Sensitivity and panache

Sensitivity and panache

Fanfare Magazine, Jim Svejda

Unknown (but worthy) music thrillingly played.

While he might seem like another of those English composers whose name suggests a character in a Noël Coward play, Percy Sherwood (1848–1918) was in fact born in Dresden, the son of an English teacher and a German singer. Educated at the Dresden Conservatory — where he began to teach in the 1890s — Sherwood was a German composer in all but name, his music written under the unmistakable influence of Schumann and Brahms. Following a London concert of his music in 1906, the critic of the Pall Mall Gazette — the fashionable evening newspaper that gave Bernard Shaw his first job — summed up the composer in a line that still holds true today: “Mr Sherwood will have nothing of your ultra-modern methods of expression; he prefers to deal simply with his subjects, and to treat them rather in the fashion of 18th century chamber music, than in any other way we know of”.

If Sherwood’s music is neither daring nor particularly original, then it’s much too attractive to have lain completely fallow for quite this long. Heard in its first recording, the Suite in C Major for Two Pianos — which “presumably dates from 1901 or early 1902, shortly before its first known performance” — is indeed structured like an 18th-century keyboard suite … this is entertaining, frequently charming music by a man who knew his business.

More substantial — at nearly 40 minutes — is the Sonata in C Minor for Two Pianos, which was introduced in Dresden in April of 1896 … at no point during its 37 minutes are you tempted to consult your watch or impatiently move on to the next track, which needless to say is a striking achievement for a composer few people have ever heard of.

Charles Hubert H. Parry was only 27 — and a quarter century from his knighthood — when he wrote his Grosses Duo in “late 1875 or early 1876”. While not terribly better-known than its Sherwood companion pieces, Parry’s Duo is in an entirely different category … the piece is unmistakably that of an important composer flexing his youthful muscles…

The Parnassius Piano Duo (Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi) play all the music with roughly equal amounts of sensitivity and panache, together with the intensity of recently converted zealots.

It’s difficult to imagine a more courageous or rewarding album of music for this combination being released any time soon.