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ALAN RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) The Piano Music
Four Bagatelles
Four Romantic Pieces
Theme and Four Studies
Six Preludes
John Clegg (piano)
rec All Saints, Petersham, 21-22 Feb 1996 PARADISUM PDS-CD2 63.15
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This Lancashire born composer does not fit into the classic pastoral stream of British romanticism. He is a romantic but his very personal mode of expression accommodates severity and discord alongside a deeply rooted sense of reflection. Works like the First Symphony (available on Lyrita coupled with the other two symphonies.) and Symphonic Studies are more approachable as is the First Violin Concerto and the film music (a collection of which is due soon from Chandos to join their anthologies of Arnold, Alwyn and Auric).

His works are, through the admirable industry of the Rawsthorne Trust, being recorded complete on a variety of labels: mainly Naxos and ASV. Paradisum contribute the piano music on this disc of recordings made as long ago as 1996.

The Four Bagatelles (1938, and dedicated to Gordon Green) are elusive, beguiling and epigrammatic to the point of being Haikai. The Sonatina (in four movements running short of 12 minutes) spins and flies in the first movement), reflects amid eddies and swirls in the lento, peals in gentle Brahmsian rivulets in the Allegretto and floods in a revolutionary ice-cold douche in the Shostakovichian accents of the Allegro con brio. That douche and flood carry over into the first and third of the Four Romantic Pieces. The set is dedicated to that British arch-romantic pianist Frank Merrick (who, if I recall correctly, recorded them). The second is almost Medtnerian - in the set of its jaw if not in its tonality. Certainly it qualifies as highly romantic while the rocky landscape of the Adagio maestoso hints at Dies Irae. John Ogdon (a troubled genius of a pianist if ever there was one) recorded the Ballade for EMI. It is the single largest (12.49) continuous span of piano music written by Rawsthorne. It is a tough work of awkward virtuosity: angular and brusquely percussive (look at its date of composition) at times with reminiscences of Dies Irae. The Theme and Four Studies are not as imposing as the Ballade and seem to look back to the Romantic Pieces.

If you like this music then don't miss ClassicO's 15CD set of the piano music (well some of it!) of Dane, Niels-Viggo Bentzon (reviewed elsewhere on this site).

Lennox Berkeley's Six Preludes are also well under John Clegg's fingers. He has broadcast them several times on BBC Radio 3. In some ways they are similar to the Rawsthorne Bagatelles but without the dissonant overlay. They are playful, Poulencian - certainly Gallic in their insouciant wing-beat - a sort of staid Gershwin. These works are extremely attractive (sample the two andantes - tracks 20 and 24) and there is no work to be done in enjoying them!

The insert notes are by Roy Scott and are a bit too technical for my liking or (more truthfully) knowledge. Much of their content will not support the interested general listener. As far as the music is concerned this is a very strong collection indeed. One would expect as much from John Clegg who has been associated with this music since the 1950s.


Rob Barnett



Rob Barnett

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