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John WHITE (b. 1936)
Piano Sonata No.1 (1956) [10:50]; Piano Sonata No.5 (1959) [10:20]; Piano Sonata No.4 (1959) [14:18]; Piano Sonata No.9 (1960) [6:10]
Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008)
Piano Sonata No.1, op.17 (1959) [17:18]; Nocturne No.2, op.16/1 (1959) [4:33]; Piano Sonata No.2, op.27 (1962) [11:15]; Nocturne No.1, op.9 (1956) [7:28]; Elegy, op.18/3 (1959) [2:45]
Colin Kingsley (piano); Valerie Tryon (piano)
rec. May 1960 (White) and November 1962 (Hoddinott) The Music Room, Burnham, Buckinghamshire
re-issues of Lyrita RCS 18 (White) and RCS 27 (Hoddinott)
LYRITA REAM.2108 [41:38 + 43:19]

Experience Classicsonline

 

This may seem an unusual marriage of composers, but it's not as strange as you might think. Both composers have written extensively for the piano - White is a fine pianist himself - and both have displayed a fascination with instrumental sonorities. Each has composed in all genres, and composed prolifically. Most importantly, and I keep writing this, but I do feel that it's important, each can really communicate with the audience.

White has written a lot of his music for the various ensembles with which he has been involved - The Promenade Theatre Orchestra, Hobbs-White Duo, Garden Furniture Music Ensemble, Live Batts! and the Farewell Symphony Orchestra. Apart from this, there's ballet scores, orchestral works, electric (not electronic) music, a wonderful set of Six Concert Studies for tuba and piano - White is an expert tuba player. The reason most people will know his works is the Piano Sonatas, of which there are, to date, at least 166.

The 1st Sonata is White's op. 1, and it's the most formal of all these pieces. In three, relatively short, movements, it doth protest a lot. Or at least the first movement is very argumentative, and the music is propelled forwards by driving rhythms. The slow movement is a night piece, and the finale a rapid moto perpetuo. Although his style is not yet formed there's clearly a new voice at work. By the time we reach the 4th Sonata, we can hear White's style coming to fruition. White has readily acknowledged his influences to be the great piano composers of the 20th century - Busoni, Sorabji and Medtner - one from the 19th - Alkan - as well as Satie. However, his music has never sounded like any of these men, rather he has taken their methods and used them in his own way. This 4th Sonata is one of the longest works he has written in this genre, nearly 15 minutes -the 8th Sonata is a little longer still taking some 90 minutes in performance. Within its one movement structure - which is the norm for his Sonatas - there's a vast variety of moods and colours. The 5th Sonata is another step forwards. Here the textures are darker and heavier, there's more development of less material, and he's in perfect command of it. White is now starting to work towards his aphoristic style. The 6th Sonata is even more concise, and much more recognizably the White we know.

It's good to have this music back in the catalogue and it's a superb addition to the lamentably small amount of White's works currently available on CD. Don't forget Roger Smalley's selection of Sonatas from No.56 to 109 on NMC D038 for that is equally indispensable.

Alun Hoddinott was the first Welsh composer to achieve international recognition. He wrote a vast amount of music, and the thirteen Piano Sonatas cover the whole of his career from 1959 to 2000. Hoddinott has been drawn to the nocturne and several of his works use that word, or Night Music, in their titles - such as Nocturnes and Cadenzas for cello and orchestra (1968) (available on Lyrita SRCD.332), two Nocturnes for orchestra (1949 and 1953), Night Music for orchestra (1966) and, more recently, Sonata notturno (1994). The first and third movements of the 1st Sonata are dark night-pieces; brooding and probing into the murkier recesses of your mind. The second and fourth movements are bright and airy toccatas. The 2nd Sonata shows a firmer hand at the helm and the ideas, and their working out, are more subtle and assured. The first movement is lively and energetic, the second a sinuous nocturne with an huge eruption in the middle, and the finale is a superbly lop-sided march - very Weimar Republic!

The two Nocturnes are well developed pieces of slow-moving, intensely thoughtful, music, the second being the more elaborate. The final Elegy is the most forward-looking music on this disk. Despite its brevity, it encompasses a wide range of emotion. Don't forget that if you want to investigate Hoddinott's Piano Sonatas further Martin Jones has recorded the first ten on Nimbus (NI 5369 and 5370).

These are amongst the most important re-issues from Lyrita's early days. Although both composers have been recorded subsequently, these recordings represent some of their very earliest musical thoughts. These are the very pieces which tend to be overlooked when assessing a composer's works.

Both Colin Kingsley - he's the dedicatee of White's 1st and 4th Sonatas and the première performer of Hoddinott's 2nd Sonata - and Valerie Tryon - the first performer of Hoddinott's 1st Sonata - give authoritative performances. The sound, though rather boxy, is clear and very clean. Paul Conway's notes are well worth reading for they are informative and will be helpful to these not acquainted with the music of these two important British composers.

Bob Briggs

 

 

 

 


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