Ketélbey: A Dream Picture
Rosemary Tuck, Piano
This welcome re-release from Naxos of Ketélbey’s piano works signals something of a rekindling of Naxos’ interest in their Light Music series and we are seeing re-issues of many of their titles. Unusual in the series is this offering performed by Sydney-born pianist Rosemary Tuck, as it is the only example of such a release for the solo instrument so far. It has garnered well-deserved attention thanks to Tuck’s sensitive, yet never over-indulgent interpretations of these works and was Scala Radio’s Album of the Week in July, with tracks being played daily for an entire week.
To celebrate this re-release, I spoke to Rosemary Tuck about her experiences with Ketélbey’s music and of recording it.
Most of the pieces included on the disc are premieres, so what prompted you to explore this under-represented repertoire?
I had grown up on this music and always loved it, but in terms of exploring the repertoire further it was purely down to a chance encounter in an Australian bookshop. It was a small specialised shop, a bit like the one in the movie Notting Hill, and the owner used to also arrange concerts for Australians. He introduced me to a customer there at the same time as me who in turn said I must meet his old friend Murray Khouri. I sent Murray my then recent Lyadov CD, and after learning of my love of light music he gave me a list of composers to research. He happened to be recording British Light Music at the time. We were both astonished at how much Ketélbey there was.
With Ketélbey being a fine salon composer, what do you think are some of the qualities of salon music that you consider to have appeal for audiences in the 21st century?
It is hugely enjoyable, melodic, scintillating, often sentimental and undemanding to listen to. In other words, entertaining.
Do you think Ketélbey’s neglect is in a large part due to his not being classified as a “serious” composer by the musical establishment, as suggested in Tom McCanna’s liner notes? If this is the case, do you have any suggestions for audiences to persuade them to approach lighter music?
Ketélbey’s success as a composer of light music was completely overwhelming, and, regardless of any classification, the majority of people would not associate him with anything other than that. He also of course wrote “serious” music; although that, by his own admission, never achieved anywhere near the fame or financial success of his lighter work. I have performed both his light pieces and serious works in concert – including at the South Bank Centre and St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. Audiences really enjoyed them. I think the music just needs to be played more often in different settings.
As a performer, do you find there are particular demands on the pianist in terms of the technical and interpretative demands of the works?
Ketélbey himself was a pianist and so he wrote very well for the instrument. Musically, I feel it benefits from a certain swing to the melodies and lilt to the waltzes. Colour is also important, the unexpected turns of phrase and harmonies demand it.
Being a lighter composer at the time he was writing, a lot of Ketélbey’s style involves an element of imitation (famously In a Persian Market), but do you detect anything in particular that announces a work as a Ketélbey piece?
His melodies are distinctive, especially those from around 1915–25 – they stand out immediately as his, and the harmony of course underlines that.
In A Woodland Story, we actually have a narrative/ descriptive piece. Do you think this links composers of this nature to elements of the romantic movement in creating tone poems etc? I suppose such influences then also link to Ketélbey’s cinematic works?
Absolutely, you only have to look at his Three Fanciful Etchings to see a connection. His music for the cinema, also – it’s setting a scene, painting a picture, albeit often on a smaller scale. A Woodland Story actually started life as Kinema Music.
Do you have any favourite pieces on the CD and what makes them so special to you?
I find something to like in all of them, really. I love the undeniably Ketélbey tunes of Reflections and A River Reverie. In The Woodlands is completely delightful and Valse Lyrique entirely unexpected. The vivid scenes created in A Woodland Story especially stand out – the writing is incredibly varied, expressive, imaginative and fun.
As always Rosemary Tuck brings out the best of any composer in a sensitive way which makes one feel as if you are listening to a full orchestra.