W Busch • R Clarke
W Busch: Allegretto quasi Pastorale; Gigue; Theme, Variations and Fugue; Intermezzo; ‘Nicholas’ Variations; R Clarke: Theme and Variations; Cortège; ‘He Hath Filled The Hungry’ (trans. from Bach)
Simon Callaghan (piano)
Lyrita SRCD.408 69:31 mins
While I wouldn’t want to make any wild claims that this recording contains forgotten masterpieces, it does offer sensitive and intelligent musicianship that shows off minor British piano works to their best advantage. Simon Callaghan has paired music by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) and William Busch (1901-45), building a programme around three variation sets; the two composers, who knew each other, overlap in a short impressionist piece called Cortège, written by Clarke for Busch in 1930.
Of the two, it’s Clarke who is better known nowadays, chiefly for her Viola Sonata and Piano Trio. Her Theme and Variations is an early work from 1908, when she was studying with Stanford at the Royal College of Music, and although it doesn’t have the distinctive style of her later works, it is finely crafted, its moods nicely balanced.
Busch was once described as ‘the most likely to be forgotten’ of musicians from the 1930s and ’40s, as the booklet notes relate, and it’s hard to decide how much of a backhanded compliment that is. His music doesn’t clamour for attention, certainly, and has a lean, austere quality that makes it easier to admire than love. A concert pianist whose career was blighted by nerves, Busch studied in America and Germany, before working with British composers including John Ireland and Alan Bush. His Theme, Variations and Fugue of 1936 is in Ireland’s words ‘very formidable’, though perhaps less than the later Nicholas Variations of 1942 – a craggy and bracing work with which the recital culminates. Several miniatures by Busch provide light relief.