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Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1936-7, Rev. 1942) [19:18]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in one movement (1962) [11:46]
Piano Sonata No. 3 (1973) [22:30]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
rec. 21 May, 13 December 2004, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK. DDD
NAXOS 8.557611 [53:34]

Known primarily for his orchestral works, Tippett devotees can now hear his piano works. Tippett wrote four sonatas for piano, the last one completed in 1984. This disc of the first three shows an extremely wide range of compositional styles. The first, indulgently, perhaps almost apologetically, referred to by the composer as a "young man’s work, with all the exuberance of discovery and creation that commonly implies" feels like a work of youth. It’s not a case of displaying the brashness of Prokofiev’s earlier works; more that it has the sound of someone still working out ideas of what something should sound like. Seven years after its completion, Tippett substantially revised the sonata; the revised version is presented here.

The second sonata of 1962 shows a completely different approach. Not arranged in typical sonata form, the piece uses six motifs, from sforzando dissonances to birdsong and quietude. It is not so much a typical sonata as a sonic mosaic. It holds interest and is the most widely-recorded of Tippett’s piano sonatas.

The third, in three movements, returns somewhat to the traditional idea of a sonata in that it has themes that are developed and recapitulated, with themes of the first movement making a curtain call in the last. The middle movement is a theme and variations wherein all the subsequent variations are transposed until the final part of the movement returns to the original key. It is in this sonata, more so than the others, where Tippett’s exploration of Beethovenian sonorities — most consistently heard in his orchestral pieces — is applied.

Maestro Raymond Leppard has gone on record stating that Tippett’s composition is "often sloppy". It is likely Leppard would have little to say regarding the first piano sonata, which overall seems a work that is unsure of itself. For those fans of Tippett who are unfamiliar with his sonatas, this disc fits in perfectly with Naxos’s wonderful record of presenting rarely heard works that are sensitively recorded and ably played. Donohoe’s performances have conviction and strength.

David Blomenberg

see also review by Dominy Clements



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