It’s still cool here in the UK, but when the sun is out I can already feel its warmth on my face, beckoning summer. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic may mean that summer holidays are limited but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying summer-themed piano music while dreaming of sandy beaches, ice-creams, and balmy evenings on the promenade, enjoying a chilled glass of something as the sun goes down…
Benjamin Britten: Holiday Diary
Britten’s suite of piano miniatures, composed in 1934, evokes the simple pleasures of a British seaside holiday and has a special resonance for me as I enjoyed seaside holidays in Suffolk, not far from where Britten lived in Aldeburgh. The suite is wonderfully inventive and shows the composer’s boyish sense of fun with its colourful evocation of the bright lights, noise and exuberance of the funfair, refreshing early morning dips in the sea, the challenge of sailing on a boisterous North Sea, and finally the stillness of night-time at the end of a long hot day.
Benjamin Britten: Holiday Diary, Op. 5 (Maria Marchant, piano)
Liszt: Années de pélerinage: Suisse
From the seaside to the majesty of the Alps, portrayed in Liszt’s first book of Années. These are not fictional imaginings conjured up at home but his responses, in music, to the alpine landscape and landmarks of Switzerland, which he visited with Marie d’Agoult during the years 1835-1839. Liszt evokes lush mountain pastures, wild flowers, birdsong and fauna, a mountain stream playfully carving its course towards the sea, and a beautiful mountain lake, a light breeze ruffling its clear surface. There are storms too, and the imposing grandeur of the mountains is vividly drawn in Vallée d’Obermann.
Franz Liszt: Annees de pelerinage, 1st year, Switzerland, S160/R10 – No. 2. Au lac de Wallenstadt (At the Lake of Wallenstadt) (Lazar Berman, piano)
Franz Liszt: Annees de pelerinage, 1st year, Switzerland, S160/R10 – No. 5. Orage (Storm) (Lazar Berman, piano)
Franz Liszt: Annees de pelerinage, 1st year, Switzerland, S160/R10 – No. 7. Eclogue (Eclogue) (Lazar Berman, piano)
The pure pleasure of being in Italy is expressed in Poulenc’s uncomplicated yet deeply evocative music, suggesting relaxing summer evenings in Naples. Poulenc began this three-movement suite during a trip to Italy in 1922 and completed it in 1925, and it has an enchanting vibrancy and colour, from its uplifting opening barcarolle, a central Nocturne with rippling left hand figures, suggesting waves gently lapping at the shoreline, and an exuberant caprice full of the bustle and vibrancy of the streets of Naples.
Francis Poulenc: Napoli, FP 40 (Charles Owen, piano)
Moeran: Summer Valley
A gentle, rather wistful piece with a pastoral flavour, reflecting the inspiration composer Ernest Moeran drew from the landscapes of Britain and Ireland.
Ernest John Moeran: Summer Valley (Duncan Honeybourne, piano)
Elgar: In Smyrna
Edward Elgar travelled around the Mediterranean in 1905 and stopped off in Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey). He was struck by the “extraordinary colour & movement’ and the intoxicating “light and shade” of the city which evidently made a keen impression on him, as revealed by this enchanting miniature for piano.
Edward Elgar: In Smyrna (Peter Pettinger, piano)
Debussy: Voiles from Preludes Book 1
The drowsy heat of summer, tempered by a soft breeze, is captured in this atmospheric Prelude by Debussy. The title Voiles (sails) may refer to a yacht’s sails ruffled by the wind, but also suggests gauzy net curtains gently billowing in an open window.
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Claude Debussy: Preludes, Book 1 – No. 2. Voiles (Vanessa Benelli Mosell, piano)