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English Piano Sonatas
CD 1 [74:26]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor (1910, 1917-21) [19:25]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in G (1919-20) [24:51]
First Appendix (passage 1 removed from published version of Second Sonata) [1:38]
Second Appendix (passage 2 removed from published version of Second Sonata) [4:44]

John IRELAND (1879-1962)

Piano Sonata (in edition revised by composer and published in 1951 by Augener) (1918-20) [23:36]
CD 2 [72:32]

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Piano Sonata (1921-24) [28:44]

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

Piano Sonata No. 3 in G minor (1926) [25:08]
Piano Sonata No. 4 in G (1932) [18:27]
Malcolm Binns (piano)
rec. 16, 30 May, 13 June, 18 July 2007,Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School. DDD
notes in English only
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS434-435CD [72:32 + 74:26]

This recording could claim to be one of the most important discs issued by the British Music Society, released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Malcolm Binns’ London debut at the Wigmore in 1958. There is therefore a personal element in the choice. In preparation for what is essentially an authoritative reading of these major works from the inter-war years in a medium that most of the major figures in English music (Vaughan Williams, Holst, Delius, Elgar, Walton and others) have neglected, Binns has carefully studied the composers’ emendations to the original manuscripts (in particular the Bax 2nd and 3rd, and the Ireland). The result is a refreshing re-appraisal of works which have been variously recorded - though seldom performed live - over the years.

I would suggest that, listening to these works in perspective as it were, there is another fascinating aspect to these recordings. I have long believed that John Ireland (though he wrote no Symphony or oratorio) is a composer of far greater stature than has been accorded him in the past: that Frank Bridge was never the anarchic modernist ‘uglifying’ his music to bring it up to date (as one misguided critic is said to have remarked!) - on the contrary, despite the agonised chromaticism evoked by the circumstances of the dedication, this work is essentially lyrical, with many points of contact with the John Ireland; and that the ‘brazen romanticism’ of Arnold Bax (who was essentially a symphonist) belongs to the end of the 19th century (as Joan Chissell once remarked).

Binns’ studies in the manuscripts yield some fascinating ‘chips’ from the composers’ workshops – sidelights rather than floodlights – and are carefully annotated in the accompanying booklet (but no dusty ‘Urtext’ here!). Two particular instances are highlighted and are incorporated in the recording ( CD1) as Appendices 1 and 2 on separate tracks. These, especially the first will provide subject for discussion?

The other most immediately obvious is the restoration of the melisma figuration in the slow movement (bars 36-50) of the Bax 3rd, over the big Irish tune - and a 2 bar intrusion (bars 49-50 in the Bax 2nd Sonata of a curious fragment marked ‘dizzily’! (bars 47-50).

The idea of perspective, while it has thus considerable significance in hearing these works together, has specific relevance to the John Ireland Sonata – where the melodic perspective seems to chart its path over the hushed stillness of the silent bars of the slow movement with all the majesty of a colossal sunset over Chanctonbury. Significantly "Earth’s Call" dates from around the same period as the Sonata – and it is this aspect of Ireland’s music that, with The Forgotten Rite, Mai Dun and Legend that throws its roots backward into prehistory - "Let us both listen, till we understand" (Monro) and therein lies mystery.

The Bax Sonatas cover some 20 years of his life – touching 1910, 1917, 1919, 1926 and finally 1932 - but it is significant that it is out of the Piano Sonata medium that the first of Bax’s symphonies emerged.

There is a bonus – a superfluity of good things here! The liner-notes conclude with an interview with the pianist in which Lewis Foreman elicits from Binns an illuminating commentary reinforcing that refreshingly personal approach to the music. This should not be missed.

The recording is bright and spacious and is highly recommended.

Colin Scott-Sutherland


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