Here are three comparatively
recent sonatas each in three short movements.
Butterworth is succinct; even gnomic
in his concentration and compression
of ideas. None of these sonatas is more
than 22 minutes playing duration.
The First Piano
Trio was commissioned by the Cheltenham
Festival for the composer’s sixtieth
birthday. The outer movements remind
me of Ravel and the surging unleashing
of song in the First Piano Quartet by
Fauré and in the grievously neglected
quartets of Max D’Ollonne. The composer
refers to the works’ s inspiration by
wintertime contemplations of past summers
and springs. The central adagio is a
chilly reflective piece. He also mentions
the harmonic language having some affinity
with one of my favourite Sibelius works
- the Symphony No. 6. The 1982 Viola
Sonata is a work that has that rhapsodic
Baxian tendency. Briefly the piano rises
in commanding mood and then the viola
chimes in heavy with autumn’s sadness.
Typically the sonata follows the mood-pattern
of many a British viola sonata: a fast
scherzo between two slow rhapsodic meditations.
Mr Butterworth tells us that if there
is a Baxian strand in his music it is
in this work that we hear it most clearly.
The sonata is well placed between two
works which include music of decisive
ebullience. In the Second Piano Trio
the mood is one of mercurial fantasy
with the composer given to sudden strokes
of bleak reflection. The players wonderfully
catch and sustain the gloomy power of
the middle movement before launching
into the spidery-light tripping of the
final Allegro molto. It’s a stone’s
throw away from the genial Dvořák
and Smetana at times.
The notes are in the
form of a helpful and engaging descriptive
essay by Paul Conway as well as the
composers programme notes. The composer
avoids musical technicality and concentrates
on biography, chronological placement
and mood. He writes with candour and
does not shy away from references to
the music of other composers.
Here we have three
works of potent reflective and expressive
power. It is good to be able to have
them in such totally sympathetic readings
by players who have tapped into Butterworth’s
concentrated mood-painting and dynamism.
see also review
by Hubert Culot