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Patrick PIGGOTT (1990)
Piano Music

Introduction by Malcolm Binns
First Piano Sonata - Fantasia quasi una Sonata: 1 Allegretto; 2 Allegro; 3 Lento – De Profundis (In Memoriam).
Eight Preludes and a Postlude (Third Set): 1 Animato; 2 Lento; 3 Allegretto; 4 Largamente; 5 Presto Commodo alla Bulgara; 6 Con Moto; 7 Lento ma non troppo; 8 Con Furia; 9 Postlude – In Tempo di Corteo
Second Piano Sonata: I Allegro; II Andante (un poco agitato improvisando); 3 Quasi Variazioni: Andante (Tempo di Sarabanda) – Tema; 4 L’istesso Tempo; 5 Tempo di Minuetto (un pochissimo piu mosso); 6 Allegro Scherzoso; 7 Brioso (senza misura); Tempo Misurato (andante) L’istesso Tempo; III Allegro (molto animato)
Malcolm Binns (piano)
rec. Music Hall of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, 26 Sept and 10 Oct 2004. DDD

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It is nothing short of a tragedy that, when Patrick Piggott died in May 1990, he was but little known as a composer. As a pianist he was one of the finest and most sensitive this country has ever produced – yet memories of his playing must now have faded even in the minds of those who were privileged to hear him. It is incomprehensible that no commercial recordings were made, for his performances and broadcasts were not infrequent and he could, had he wished, have exercised some leverage in his position as head of BBC music, Midland Region (1965-69). Although trained as a pianist much in demand as recitalist, he chose to devote most of his energies to composition – and though he was thereafter very well served by his interpreters, he was ever conscious of what he called "the pull of the piano." It is certainly true that he wrote music of considerable virtuosity as will be seen from this brilliant and exciting long-awaited recording by Malcolm Binns for whom so much of Piggott’s music, including a fine one-movement Piano Concerto, was written and who provides a personal touch here in his introductory memoir.

Patrick Piggott studied piano with Harold Craxton at the RAM. Significantly he also studied composition with Benjamin Dale, which was to have a considerable influence on his later work. Among his several scholarships was the coveted Mendelssohn prize which took him to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. He might have been expected therefore to take his place in British music with Rawsthorne, Berkeley and Tippett. But the influence of Dale, and the conflict between playing and composition continued throughout his life. One deciding factor which weighed in favour of composition, at least in the latter half of his life, was arthritis which bedevilled his later years and gradually made playing impossible.

A fastidious critic of his own work he disowned much of his early compositions (including several orchestral works) which he considered curiously as ‘invalid’. From the early 1960s therefore only a few works were chosen to survive – the first set of Preludes (he wrote three sets of 8 and added a Postlude to the last set recorded here) – a Baxian Nocturne for Violin and orchestra – the first of his three String Quartets – and the first work on this present disc which dates from Sep-Dec 1961.

This is a big conception which he revised in 1975 – restless and lyrical by turns. It is in three movements, the slow movement being placed last and is in the form of an Elegy – De Profundis in Memoriam, and is an elegy for his mother. Just why he chose to adopt the Beethovenian title of Fantasia quasi una Sonata is not immediately clear – but a prominent figure in the final movement seems clearly to echo the theme of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Sonata opus 109.

That this is an important motif for Piggott is underlined by its reappearance in the music of the Second Sonata and elsewhere. The opening of the Sonata exposes first and second subject material in a brief 33 bars, repeated., with some delicate and characteristic filigree patterns and a dramatic ‘rise’ figure in octaves that has connections with both the second Sonata and with the Concerto.

The second movement is brusque – a rough gesture answering a quiet figure which however generates much of the forward movement. Its scherzo-like development is rhythmic and flirtatious with hammering 6ths and 2nds driving to a martellato conclusion. The last movement opens with a 12-note row theme, the first four notes of which are characteristic recalling Rawsthorne’s interlocked thirds. Its development also echoes the Beethoven theme which has some link with the opening motif in inversion. The music becomes more anguished and leads to a tragic funeral march passage. This cry of agony gradually diminishes but with intense feeling, dying to a quiet ‘niente’ conclusion.

The Second Sonata is very different. The theme, urgent and carried on a swift undercurrent of semiquavers, materialises into another octave figure which dominates the opening pages up to the poco meno mosso second subject. This is marked liberamente and waxes quite romantic before culminating in aggressive chords. A quasi-fugal passage follows, the aggressive chords return, thinning out into the octave figure heard earlier – and the last section uses all the foregoing material. The second movement is in the form of variations. A short introduction seems to deal with weighty matters. The theme however is a beautifully decorated Sarabande, the music very reminiscent of Szymanowski. The first variation, a nebulous pattern of semiquavers, gradually exposes a rising melody motif related to the opening movement of the Sonata. The second variation is even more decorative. An Allegro scherzoso variation follows, staccato and insistent which leads straight into a broad Brioso chordal few bars. Patterns play a big part in Piggott’s language – and here the music strongly recalls patterns from John Ireland. And here once again the ‘Beethoven’ figure appears in shadow, then prominently against a throbbing accompaniment.

The final movement is concerned with two motifs – a powerful and threatening octave pattern and a songful melody in the inner parts. The opening music from the beginning of the Sonata leads to a dramatic conclusion in insistent octaves.

Piggott wrote the obligatory 24 Preludes which however follow no tonal pattern – and are in random keys, with some without a tonal centre. To these he added a Postlude which is a cortege-like reflection on, and perhaps summing up of, the earlier conflicts. Yet it ends in a mood of self doubt, or even apprehension which was part of Piggott’s make-up. These Preludes are no lightweight counterbalance to the strenuous virility of the Sonatas. Again they are virtuosic, with the now recognisable patterns of semiquavers and octaves. The second is related to the Sarabande from the second Sonata, the third a sprightly Allegretto. The fourth seems about to quote Beethoven again, and is succeeded by a driving Alla Bulgara. A con moto pattern in the sixth, rushing like wind over water, is followed by a sensuously beautiful Lento whose delicacy is rudely banished by the final Con Furia. The concluding Postlude muses over previous material and rounds off all the Preludes with a tolling bell.

Malcolm Binns has the authoritative voice borne of his close relationship with the composer and gives a valuable insight into this complex and extremely difficult music. The recording is exceptionally well balanced allowing Piggott's filigree patterns and the more tempestuous passages both to be heard with absolute clarity. It is to be hoped that with this introduction we shall hear much more of this forgotten composer.

Colin Scott-Sutherland

British Music Society Recordings

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