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Thomas WILSON (1927-2001)
Cancion (1977)a [3:08]
Piano Sonata (1959, rev. 1964)b [18:38]
Piano Trio (1966)c [16:50]
Three Pieces (1961)a [5:32]
String Quartet No.3 (1958)d [21:20]
Incunabula (1983)b [12:26]
Allan Neave (guitar)a; Simon Smith (piano)bcd; Edinburgh Quartetcd
rec. Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh, 18 June 2008 (Piano Sonata, Incunabula) and 17 September 2008 (Piano Trio); Prestonkirk Parish Church, East Linton, 19 June 2008 (String Quartet No.3) and RSAMD, Glasgow, 10 April 2009 (Cancion, Three Pieces)
DELPHIAN DCD34079 [77:56]
Experience Classicsonline

The late Thomas Wilson was an important personality in Scottish musical life but - first and foremost - a most distinguished composer with a sizeable and substantial output in almost every genre to his credit. His output includes piano works, chamber music, vocal and choral pieces as well as a number of substantial orchestral works that are still waiting for some wider exposure. In this respect, I hope that this release will be an ear-opener that will renew interest for his superbly crafted, often beautiful and strongly expressive music.

Wilson composed about half a dozen works for guitar including a concerto completed in 1996. Cancion (1977) and the somewhat earlier Three Pieces (1961) demonstrate that he composed idiomatically for the instrument while avoiding any Spanish-sounding clichés. Three Pieces is in fact a set of short studies on a 12-note series that the composer exploits in a completely free manner - Wilson was never a strict serialist indeed. True to its title, Cancion is a fairly simple and straightforward song of great charm.

Wilson’s output for piano is far more sizeable since it includes the large-scale Piano Sonata and Incunabula both recorded here but also a very fine Sonatina (1956), Three Pieces (1964) and the substantial Piano Concerto (1984). Incidentally his complete piano music has been available on Aspen Music PEN103 (cassette only and probably no longer available) played by Peter Jacobs. The Piano Sonata was written in 1959 and revised in 1964. It is in two movements. The first movement opens with a slow introduction launching into a vigorous Allegro whereas the long second movement is a set of variations capped by a calm coda.

The Piano Trio is in one single movement in a fairly traditional arch-form, albeit handled with remarkable imagination. A slow introduction (violin and cello answered by the piano) leads into a lively, often energetic section. A bridge passage by the cello introduces a Scherzo-like section dominated by what sounds as a transposed DSCH motif. A new cadenza-like passage (violin) leads then into the lyrical final section capped by a brief restatement of the opening thus bringing the work full circle.

Thomas Wilson considered the String Quartet No.3 as a breakthrough. It is obviously a work demonstrating the composer’s full maturity. The musical material is again closely worked-out and most of it derives from the opening four-note motif heard at the outset that is recalled - in one way or another - in all three movement, but - again - Wilson’s mastery is such that he draws a remarkable wealth of variety from such limited material. In this respect, the Third String Quartet has much in common with the Piano Sonata and the Piano Trio in that the tight working-out of the material never happens at the expense of expression and emotion.

The basic material of Incunabula draws on the piano part of the song cycle The Willow Branches (1983) that will also be worked-out later in the Piano Concerto. Although the music may be somewhat more rhapsodic in character than, say, that of the Piano Sonata, that of Incunabula explores some unusual piano sonorities though without ever resorting to any “tricks and gimmicks” of modern piano writing.

Although reasonably well served as far as performances were concerned, Wilson’s music has still to receive its due in terms of commercial recordings although some of it was recorded during his lifetime: the Piano Concerto (1984) and Introit (1982) once available on Chandos CHAN 8626 - published as far back as 1988. Some may also remember a very fine recording of the St Kentigern Suite (1986) on Virgin Classics - probably no longer available. This generously filled, magnificently played and beautifully produced release with illuminating and detailed insert notes by John Fallas is thus most welcome, were it only because it strongly demonstrates what a fine composer Thomas Wilson was. I for one hope that Delphian will not be too long in issuing another similar release centred on the Fourth String Quartet and other chamber works.

Hubert Culot



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