I must confess that
this CD was a little bit of a disappointment
to me. It should have been one of the
highlights of my year. In theory it
is, as they say, right up my street.
Here was a brand new CD of music by
a forgotten British composer. In fact,
if I am honest he was just a name to
me. I knew he had been an accomplished
pianist and I was aware the he had worked
at the BBC for a number of years. But
that was the sum total of my knowledge.
I had never consciously heard any of
his music. And yet the programme promised
to be excellent. Two British Piano
Sonatas with Eight Preludes
as the filler. However it fell a little
I was trying to wonder
what I expected before listening. I
suppose I was imagining something quite
romantic and perhaps pastoral although
with a touch of spice. I deliberately
did not read the cover notes before
the first hearing. I did not want to
prejudice myself. It was the perfect
opportunity for a totally innocent ear!
As I listened to the
Preludes followed by the First
and then the Second Sonatas I
fell to thinking about Lyrita Records.
Many years ago the early productions
of this largely lamented record company
(they still produce CDs here and there)
were mainly piano works. Of course there
was music by Bax and Ireland. But the
names that came to my mind whilst listening
to Piggott were William Wordsworth,
Franz Reizenstein and Ian Whyte. Somehow,
and probably unfairly, Piggott’s music
brought back thoughts of these composers.
Now all of these gentlemen wrote fine
music. Many of these piano works were
impressive, if not masterpieces. But
the general memory I have of them is
of certain sameness. This is what I
feel about Patrick Piggott’s music.
I have listened to each work twice –
and have difficulty in separating out
the pieces in my mind.
Reading Colin Scott-Sutherland’s
review and programme notes was a sine
qua non before writing down my own thoughts.
For one key reason – there is virtually
nothing in print that is easily available
about Piggott. However Scott-Sutherland
has written a long essay for the British
Music Society, British Music Volume
23 (2001) – a list of compositions by
Piggott is also included.
an interesting statement that has coloured
my thoughts about these compositions.
He states that Piggott "significantly
... studied composition with Benjamin
Dale, which was to have a considerable
influence on his later work." But
later he goes on to say that [Piggott]
might have been expected therefore to
take his place in British music with
Rawsthorne, Berkeley and Tippett. But
the influence of Dale (my italics)
... continued throughout his life."
Somehow the implication is that poor
old Benjamin Dale was responsible for
Piggott’s lack of lasting success and
Let me make a bold
statement. I would take the opposite
view. I feel that much that is good
and satisfying in this present disc
derives from this post-romanticism of
Benjamin Dale. For example listen to
this passage for the last movement of
the First Piano Sonata [Track
3: 1:15 - 2:15]
However, much of the
rest of this music seems to me to be
directionless: it meanders, not necessarily
aimlessly but without a definable purpose.
Often the tonality is, quite deliberately,
ambiguous. All this could, of course
be defined as lending an enigmatic or
impressionistic quality to the music
as in this example from the Third
6: 00:00 – 00:40]
The darker side of
Piggott’s art is displayed especially
in the Postlude of the Third
Set of Preludes. [Track
9: 00:00 – 00:50] Yet even here
the romantic influence of Dale is, I
think, just perceptible.
Let us consider the
‘Dale effect’ for a moment. Dale’s magnum
opus is the Piano Sonata in D minor.
It was composed over a three year stretch
from 1902 to 1905. It was influential
on the then young York Bowen and the
pianist Myra Hess. There is no doubt
that Benjamin Dale was fully acquainted
with the pianism of the late nineteenth
century. It was certainly not pastiche
but did nod in many directions including
Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. The influence
of Balakirev’s Islamey is also
prominent. Other reviewers have detected
hints of Rachmaninov and even the Warsaw
Concerto by Richard Addinsell. All
in all quite an eclectic work. But it
was the inherent romanticism that carried
it. It remains one of my favourite works
for piano from the British School.
It is this inherent
romanticism that informs some of Piggott’s
music with an emotional as opposed to
a generally intellectual quality.
In spite of my reservations
about Piggott’s music, there is no doubt
that there are many attractive moments
in these pages. There is a considerable
degree of virtuosity required to play
all these pieces. I accept that often
there is a balance between the more
lyrical moments and the restless passages.
But it is the restless passages that
seem to me to be the ‘weakest link’.
Scott-Sutherland has pointed out that
Piggott loved to use ‘patterns’ in the
constructions of music. And so, of course,
have many other composers. But I cannot
help feeling that by using the patterns
he is note-spinning.
However, when push
comes to shove, this CD is required
listening for all enthusiasts of British
Piano music. And that is in spite of
much that I have said above. It seems
to me that this is music that is very
slow to reveal its charms. I have listened
to the Second Sonata for a third
time [more than I would normally for
any ‘new’ piece of music] and am just
beginning to get to like it – the rambling
notwithstanding. Yet I believe that
few people will be prepared to invest
this amount of time in picking over
a relatively obscure Sonata.
I noted above that
Piggott is likened to the generation
of composers including Britten, Rawsthorne,
Berkeley and Tippett. To my ear at least,
he lacks the genius of Britten, the
ability to balance various styles that
Rawsthorne excels at and finally he
lacks the sense of humour and subtlety
of Berkeley. And from the post-romantic
perspective he does not have the poetry
and depth of Ireland and Bax.
The playing is masterful.
Obviously Malcolm Binns is attracted
to this music – much of Piggott’s music
was composed expressly for him. The
sound quality is good and reveals the
progress of the music with clarity.
A good example of this can be heard
in the quicksilver variation, Allegro
Scherzoso from the last movement
of the Second Piano Sonata; [Track
The fine programme
notes are by Colin Scott-Sutherland
and are effectively an essay on Piggott’s
performances rather than just notes.
Although, I do wonder about the ‘greeny’
colour of the CD cover. It makes me
feel a little sea-sick!
see also review