James Welburn: Reflections in Waltz

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Around this time last year I reviewed James Welburn’s Musical Escapades (you can read that review here), and was very positive about his original piano music, concluding:

“What impresses me most of all is the infectious good humour and the compelling imagination that runs throughout the whole collection…
James Welburn has with this collection made a stunning Editions Musica Ferrum debut; he is clearly a composer to watch, and among this publisher’s rich and growing catalogue, Musical Escapades becomes one of their best publications yet.”

Now Welburn is back with a new collection, once more published by Musica Ferrum. Reflections in Waltz offers seven new original pieces, again suited to players at late-intermediate level…

Inspired by Chopin

According to Welburn,

“As with all my compositions, the pieces in this collection started as improvisations. Inspired by the works of Fryderyk Chopin, whose waltzes are among the most beautiful pieces ever written for piano, each piece explores this wonderful genre and pays homage to the great Romantic composers whose music still captivates listeners and performers all over the world today.”

The collection features:

  1. Ballade
  2. Tallinn (A Baltic Waltz)
  3. Vilnius (A Baltic Waltz)
  4. Riga (A Baltic Waltz)
  5. Victory Waltz
  6. Lamentation
  7. Hymnpromptu

The opening Ballade is the longest piece here, lasting longer than 5 minutes and printed across 9 pages. Here’s a piece whose sentimentality seems to me closer in tone to the light classics so popular in the early twentieth century. That’s no bad thing, and with it’s many episodes and fluctuating narrative the piece would make a delightful concert work for the upper-intermediate level pianist.

The three ‘Baltic Waltzes’ meanwhile could be played individually or as a trilogy. These are again deeply nostalgic pieces, merging the Chopinesque with the music of the black-and-white movie hall. Vilnius is a particularly enchanting pastiche that evokes Chopin’s belovéd opus posth. Waltz in A minor, both in its melodic contour and structural shape.

Of Riga, my favourite of the three, the composer writes:

Riga – a fantastic city with such history and musical heritage – is very Chopinesque, with its melancholic and haunting feel, interrupted by brief moments of hope and reassurance”.

What a contrast the following Victory Waltz, which combines jaunty optimism with Welburn’s infectious humour. Its six pages include some of the more challenging material for the pianist, but are great fun to play, offering plenty of scope for “hamming it up”.

If Riga was “melancholic and haunting”, how much more Lamentation, the most introspective (and at times a little dissonant) piece of the set. Even here, though, Welburn finds time for a comedic interlude.

The closing piece, deliciously titled Hymnpromptu, apparently started life as a hymn-tune the composer intended for use at his church, but as he quirkily notes:

“… the impromptu nature of composing took off much quicker than my ability to write any decent lyrics!”

The Publication

Fans of Musical Escpades, and Musica Ferrum publications in general, will find nothing to surprise or disappoint in this new publication, which as one would expect from this publisher is a work of artistic beauty.

The cover once again features the vibrant and highly appealing artwork of Liga Kitchen, the simple card cover housing a 40-page book printed on high-grade cream paper and set for optimum readability. The notation is generously spaced, cleanly presented, and includes (minimal) fingering and the composer’s pedalling indications throughout.

Audio recordings of the seven pieces performed by the composer and engineered by Joe Jackson are available using a QR Code or weblink, and offer an expressive and enjoyable taste of each piece.

And true to form, the publisher has produced this promo clip:

It is a continuing delight of Musica Ferrum publications that they can be at once so humane and folksy while striving for and attaining the very highest standards of editorial, presentation, and a high-art ethic.

Closing Thoughts

Edition Musica Ferrum has been developing something of a cult underground following, and deservedly so. Publisher Nikolas Sideris is proving very able at spotting those composing talents too easily overlooked by more mainstream publishers.

James Welburn is no exception, and is clearly well-deserving of Sideris’s friendship and support. Building on the excellent Musical Escapades, his new publication Reflections in Waltz proves Welburn again to be one of Musica Ferrum’s most approachable and commercially viable writers.

Perhaps what impresses me most here, alongside the infectious good humour and the compelling imagination that runs throughout the whole collection as in the previous volume, is the instinctive pianism with which Welburn writes, borne no doubt from his process of starting out with improvising. These pieces are as intuitive to play as they are musically enjoyable and engaging.

Let’s hope there’s more, much more, to come.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.