Thursday, 8 March 2018

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, March 2018)

The Complete Studio Recordings
Decca Eloquence 482 6291 (10 CDs) / *****

Eileen Joyce (1908-1991), Britain’s glamour lady of the piano during the 1930s to 1950s, came from humble origins. She was born in Tasmania and spent her childhood years in Perth. She received formal musical studies in Leipzig, and later in London where she made her breakthrough. 

At her prime, she was known to play three or four piano concertos - each in different outfits - within a single concert. She however retired abruptly in 1960 from career burnout. Her studio recordings date from 1933 to 1958, and originally appeared on the Parlophone, Columbia, Decca, HMV and Saga labels. Now reissued by Universal Music Australia, these show her at her brilliant best.

She had a very large concerto repertoire, but recorded only a few, including those by Grieg, Mendelssohn (No.1), Tchaikovsky (No.2), Rachmaninov (No.2, she was the pianist on the sound track for the 1945 movie Brief Encounter), John Ireland and Shostakovich (No.1). The latter two concertos found in her an ardent champion. There is also a curious excursion into harpsichord territory, of which there are several J.S.Bach concertos for multiple keyboards to enjoy.

Joyce will be best remembered for playing short encore-like pieces, a genre where she was peerless. A 78 rpm shellac disc from 1933 which coupled Liszt's La Leggierezza and Paul de Schlozer's finger-twisting Etude in A flat major became an instant bestseller. She then made lots more shorts, all dictated by the four-and-a-half minute time limit per side. 

Forgotten pieces by d'Albert, Bergman, Pick-Mangiagalli, Farjeon, Stavenhagen, Cyril Scott and Friedman all get a deserved hearing. Her mercurial yet sensitive playing harks from a bygone age, and this box-set is a priceless listen.             

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