Una Bourne: Australian Recording Pioneer, 1914-1926 - Purcell to Paderewski
Australia seems to have produced more than its fair share of pianists in the early days of recording, with Percy Grainger, William Murdoch, and Eileen Joyce all being mainstays of the 78rpm catalogue. To their ranks we should add Una Bourne, signed to the most prestigious label of all: HMV.
A stalwart of the acoustic period of recording, Bourne had early success as a prodigy and travelled to Europe to study, but it was being asked to tour with Nellie Melba which established her career. Later, as well as playing as a soloist she played and recorded much chamber music. She excelled in what we might now call ‘salon music’ and character pieces, as can be seem from her recorded repertoire. Both Grieg and Chaminade were specialties. She favored fast tempos and played with brilliance and charm in repertoire, much of which has now been neglected. In 1939 Bourne abandoned her international career and retired to teach in Australia. She has been all but forgotten and this is the first time almost any of her recordings have been reissued. They give a fascinating snapshot of musical taste and playing in the early 20th century, a time when classical music and popular were much closer bedfellows.
This new APR set reveals Bourne as a pianist of extraordinary clarity, charm and considerable finesse. She strikes as extraordinarily objective for her era; nothing seems sentimental or emotionally cluttered. Yet at the same time, each of the miniatures – many of a strongly national cast – speaks with a highly individual voice. Everything seems considered and poised. She is perhaps closest to letting go in the two Chaminade Études, both of which fairly ooze with a nonchalant abandon, even as they deliver the most delicate fioritura.
Like her compatriot Percy Grainger, Bourne felt an affinity with the music of Grieg, and a sizeable piece of real estate on the second disc is devoted to the Norwegian composer. The Op 7 Sonata, only slightly abridged, was apparently the only complete recording of the work during the 78rpm era. Meanwhile, the various selections from the Op 12, 43 and 65 sets of Lyric Pieces are captivating.
It may be in the four Liszt operatic transcriptions that Bourne’s wide-ranging technical achievement becomes most apparent. In the Rigoletto Paraphrase, her repeated octaves are exquisite. Both the Entrance of the Guests from Tannhäuser and the Liebestod go a long way towards capturing the breadth and rich textures of the operatic originals. By themselves, these performances are worth the price of the set.
The playing here is so good that I find it hard to think why her star has faded so thoroughly; APR must be thanked for giving her a voice again and unless you are resolutely opposed to the lighter side of the piano repertoire this is an album that will bring pleasure whenever you listen to it.
-- MusicWeb International
Release Date: October 07, 2022
Catalog Number: APR6037
Label: APR Recordings
Number of Discs: 2
Composer: Isaac Albeniz, Una Bourne, Ignacio Cervantes, Cecile Chaminade, Enrique Granados, Edvard Grieg, Stephen Heller, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ole Olsen, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Selim Palmgren, Henry Purcell, Xaver Scharwenka, Cyril Scott, Giovanni Sgambati, William Shield, Christian Sinding, Bedrich Smetana, Sydney Smith, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Guiseppi Verdi, Richard Wagner, Carl Maria von Weber
Performer: Una Bourne