P1175. EDNA ILES: Medtner, Arnold, Bloch & Rachmaninoff. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-263, recorded 1958-78, from Private Recordings & BBC. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"’The most valiant and intrepid assailant of my music fortress!’ exclaimed Nikolai Medtner when talking to him about Edna Iles. Still a young woman in her thirties, she had approached him at the intermission of a concert. Would he accept that she played him some of his works in order to receive his advice?
There was more than advice, Medtner enthused by the virtuosity of this beautiful English pianist, he wrote some of his mature works of for her, with his piano playing in mind, and he would dedicate the Russian Round Dances they liked to play together at two pianos. Nobody, except Medtner himself, did as much for the music of the last of the great Russian romantics as Edna Iles, writing Tales and Sonatas for each of his recitals, giving the three Concertos in 1946 and repeating the feat in 1951 in memory of Medtner who had become a spiritual father.
This devotion to Medtner, largely illustrated by this brilliant series of archives edited by Yves Saint-Laurent, as formidable as it is by its profusion of colors and piano erudition, should not make us forget which pianist of first magnitude Edna Iles was when she was confronted with the great repertoire: her last three Sonatas of Beethoven show the extent of her conception, her spirituality, the perfection of means - she had studied with Appleby Matthews - the pure beauty of a refined sound, and the perfect, irresistible Finale of the Third Concerto, makes you cry not to have the rest of this inspired interpretation.
Logically, she was at home with Chopin, the classical player, who refused all mannerism, but she was also an activist for the works of Bloch or Sir Malcolm Arnold of which she magnifies his ‘Variations on a Ukrainian theme’.
Two Preludes by Rachmaninoff are pure moments of magic, but observe Medtner's Second Violin Sonata where she creates for Antonio Brosa beautiful landscapes captured on June 16, 1961 under the direction of Stanford Robinson. What an immense pianist! If the 6 CDs published by Yves Saint-Laurent are an introduction, I am impatient to know more.”
- JEAN-CHARLES HOFFELÉ, 16 Dec., 2018
"Edna Iles, who was born in 1905, died as recently as 2003. Clearly a pianist of great capability, she enjoyed an international career during the interwar years when she could be heard in Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest, Oslo, Paris, Stockholm and Vienna as well as throughout the British Isles, playing under conductors such as Beecham, Boult and Mengelberg. Medtner, whose three piano concerti she performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1946 over three concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, described her as 'the bravest and ablest besieger of my musical fortresses'. She broadcast often, and Richard Butt, the producer of her final BBC recital in 1979 described her technique as 'very big and beefy'. This quality can clearly be heard in these private and off-air recordings issued by St Laurent, though Iles plays with much sensitivity when this is required. Of especial interest is a recording of the final movement of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, with Charles Groves conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a live concert from 1961. She performed Bloch's 'Concerto symphonique' with Groves at the Proms in the 1950s and the composer was extremely enthusiastic about her performance, writing to her: 'I was profoundly shaken by your extraordinary comprehension and realisation, as a musician and as a great pianist!' Evidently a shy person, Iles never married and made few if any commercial recordings, so the publication of this non-commercial material is very valuable indeed.
All these CDs richly repay investigation and St Laurent Studio are to be strongly congratulated for undertaking this project, which is a very fine achievement."
- David Patmore, CRQ, Winter, 2014
"Edna Iles was one of a brilliant handful of British women pianists to achieve international renown before the Second World War. A player of phenomenal technical resource and prodigious memory, she was also a musician of profound integrity whose authoritative readings of 20th-century works earned her the admiration of composers such as Sir Arnold Bax, Ernest Bloch and Sir Malcolm Arnold.
A gifted young player, she became at just 17 the first British pianist to perform Rachmaninov's fiendishly difficult Third Piano Concerto. But her most notable association was with the Russian composer Nicholas Medtner, who called her 'the bravest and ablest besieger of my musical fortresses'.
Private recordings made in the 1980s show that Iles took care to preserve much of her breathtaking refinement of technique into her eighties.
Edna Amy Iles' professional debut came in February 1921, when at the age of 15 she performed the Liszt E-flat Piano Concerto with the recently established City of Birmingham Orchestra (now the CBSO). A few months later she made a remarkable debut with a huge recital programme at the Wigmore Hall, the reviews praising the architectural strength of her playing. At around the same time she impressed the former music critic George Bernard Shaw, who heard her play at a private party in the Birmingham home of the theatre manager, Sir Barry Jackson. During the 1920's and 1930's Edna Iles rose to celebrity status as an international touring artist, playing as a concerto soloist under leading conductors including Willem Mengelberg, Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Thomas Beecham. She appeared as a soloist all over Britain with the London Symphony Orchestra under Mengelberg in an international celebrity concert series alongside such legendary figures as Paderewski, the soprano Amelita Galli-Curci and the conductor Wilhelm FurtwÃ¤ngler. Recital tours took her to Paris, the Vienna Musikverein, Budapest, Oslo, Stockholm, Warsaw, Amsterdam and Berlin, where she achieved conspicuous public and critical success.
In 1928 Iles approached Nicolas Medtner. A Russian exile, he was a prolific composer and brilliant pianist, and a friend of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. She asked him to hear her play, and he obliged on his 1930 British tour. He expressed himself delighted and readily agreed to teach her. The young pianist laced her recitals with increasingly strong doses of Medtner's music, and the composer perceived in the young British pianist an artistic integrity and breadth of vision which uncannily mirrored his own. Having settled in England in 1935, Medtner and his wife sought refuge from the London Blitz at the Ileses' Warwickshire home, where they lived for two and a half years and where Medtner composed his Third Piano Concerto. Medtner dedicated his 'Russian Round Dance' for two pianos to Iles, and this they frequently played together at home. Medtner and Iles subsequently gave a private performance on two pianos of his Third Concerto at the home of the celebrated pianist Dame Myra Hess, with Dame Myra and the pianist Benno MoisÃ©iwitsch acting as page-turners.
In 1946 Edna Iles appeared in three concerts at the Albert Hall, playing all three of Medtner's Piano Concerti with the London Symphony Orchestra. Her postwar activities included many broadcasts for the BBC and concerto performances with leading orchestras, not least at the Proms. She showed a burning commitment to Medtner's music and a strong interest in the works of living composers: she gave, for instance, the world premiere of the 'Variations, Nocturne and Finale on an English Sea Song' by Alan Bush in 1958. Iles' sense of mission on Medtner's behalf continued long after the composer's death in 1951 and extended to the writing of articles as well as frequent performances and broadcasts of her former master's piano work. She recorded her last recital for BBC Radio 3 in 1979 and in 1980 took part in a concert given to mark the centenary of Medtner's birth.
Her playing revealed a scrupulously honest and objective musical mind and a rigorous fidelity to the text. Her recorded readings of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Brahms are no less compelling than her Medtner performances. Sir Malcolm Arnold paid tribute to her after her performance of his 'Variations on a Ukrainian Theme', which she recorded in 1957: 'To take a new work like that, and play it like that, well, I don't know anyone else who could do it!'. Yet Iles' most enduring legacy remains as a trailblazer for Medtner. It is in no small measure testament to her zeal that his music is at last, after decades of neglect, being taken up with much greater frequency and that a host of commercial recordings of his piano music are beginning to appear.
- Duncan Honeybourne, THE TIMES, LONDON, 31 Jan., 2003