Of the renaissance of British music that occurred in the late 19th to the early 20th centuries, solo piano repertoire does not tend to stand proudest. The sustained expressiveness of voices and strings often seems more characteristic of these composers, much like the viol consorts and madrigals had flourished in our previous golden age – a parallel they sometimes invoked quite consciously. But as to what Debussy and Ravel were composing for piano across the channel – or indeed, compared to the keyboard music that remains a glory of Byrd’s era – there seems to be little comparison.
However, one composer from this period whose solo piano music has particularly impressed me is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. It started when I bought a second-hand score of his Three-Fours suite a few years ago, and a track I heard on Radio 3 this week also caught my attention. Isata Kanneh-Mason included four of his works on her album Summertime, and the Impromptu No. 2 is a gorgeous little piece, with echoes of Schubert. It has a magical sense of stillness, with an easy melodic grace that seems totally idiomatic for the instrument. Kanneh-Mason plays it beautifully, but I’ll have to track down the score so I can have my own (considerably less finessed) go at playing it too.