These are fascinating first appearances, after half a century, of mono recordings made in the early days of the LP but never previously issued in any form. That they appear at all is down to the agreement between Lyrita and Wyastone to issue everything Mr Itter ever recorded.
Of the four piano sonatas two are very much nineteenth century romantic and two are from 1936 alongside a 1922 Dance Suite. It's a diverse mix and one which only coheres around the performer rather than any unity of style. These projects from 1958 were never issued on LP and that they appear on CD now for the first time on any commercial medium
Richard Itter must have found Sheila Randell a sympathetic artist for he also worked with her on issuing a mono recital of some of the Alwyn piano music (review
). There's also some Villa-Lobos to come as well as at least one anthology of Hoddinott orchestral dances.
It would be good to know something about Randell; there's nothing in the liner-notes. She certainly throws her all into the Tragica
- the first of four MacDowell
sonatas - though the work also finds calm in placid Griegian pictorialism. There is a gawky hammered humour for the Molto allegro
. Paul Conway in his notes probably underplays the power of the Tragica
: while it is true that it rarely blazes it certainly broods here with a barely contained anger. The finale is an allegro eroica
which reminds me that in the early 1970s Clive Lythgoe recorded the second MacDowell sonata Eroica
for Philips and coupled it with the Woodland Sketches
. The three movement Keltic
dates from almost a decade later. Like its predecessor The Norse
it is dedicated to Grieg. MacDowell produces a powerful piece reflecting the then vogue for things Celtic and especially the mythic Deirdre and Cuchullin. Even so, the central movement is more Woodland Sketch
than potent caoine. The Lisztian ferocity of the finale restores the gravity of the piece and the melancholy beauty of Deirdre is no doubt suggested by the sinewy melody at 4:12 just before the final conflagration.
The three Hindemith
pieces begin with the Dance Suite
which takes destructive delight in distorting the popular dances of the early 1920s. The music has a dissenter's dissonance and the urge to shock is evident as it evidently is in Holbrooke Four Futurist Dances
from about the same era. No doubt this was fuelled by the work of the wild men of those days: Ornstein and Cowell. The third movement makes free with Joplinesque ragtime. At other times there are parodies of oriental fantasies and the final episode is redolent of Stravinsky. The Second Piano Sonata is all over and done with in 11 minutes. The first movement is Gallic with a sort of casual sauntering mood and similarly Gallic but placid and pensive is the Sehr langsam
third movement. The second movement is more of an upstart with a strong forward impetus. This you can also feel in the sewing-machine action of the long finale which eventually finds a stern gravitas at 3:21. The Third Sonata - also from 1936 - is much in the same vein yet longer at over 18 minutes. It ends in a sturdy double fugue. There is an even greater sense of seriousness here. Both sonatas seem to have been written during Hindemith's extended visit to Turkey as musical adviser.
The whole set is superbly designed and both discs are housed in a single-width double-hinged case.
The playing time for each disc bespeaks the LP concept of the era steering clear of even 45 minutes. These assertive recordings have benefited from the usual TLC but nothing can disguise their vintage.
Paul Conway proves himself as much a communicative adept with these works as with those of the British musical renaissance and after.