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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Bagatelles (1938) [6:07]
Sonatina (1949) [10:40]
Four Romantic Pieces (1953) [9:51]
Bernard STEVENS (1916-1983)
Five Inventions Op.14 (1950) [9:12]
Ballad Op.17 (1951) [10:18]
Fantasia on ‘Giles Farnaby’s Dreame’ Op.22 (1953) [13:06]
Sonata in One Movement Op.25 (1954) [15:40]
James Gibb (piano)
rec. 1958 and 1959. mono. ADD
LYRITA REAM.1107 [75:08]

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Lyrita’s reach extends here to the late 1950s sessions made by that pioneering British pianist James Gibb. The repertoire is Rawsthorne and Stevens and the occasional cross-currents are bracing and provocative – principally it’s Stevens who occasionally dons a Rawsthorne-like mantle though he is very much an individualist and as the Sonata and the Fantasia show most eloquently, a formidably equipped composer for the instrument.

Chronologically it’s best to begin with Rawsthorne whose Four Bagatelles get the disc off to a tart and brusquely witty start. Rawsthorne’s very personalised Siciliano, shot through with wintry hauteur, is the second of the four. The Lento is the last movement, veiled and serious-minded and at only two minutes in length a dense and weighty Bagatelle indeed. The Sonatina was actually first performed by Gibb, in 1949. The dryness of the recorded set up is in itself not inappropriate given the occasional tartness and brittleness of the musical argument. The Lento is perfectly controlled and eloquent, and the dynamism of the Allegro finale a testament to Gibb’s unerring insight into the music. The flourishes here are extrovert and sweep away any residual feelings of malinconia engendered by the preceding Allegretto. The Four Romantic Pieces marry sternness with virtuosity though the second has its lighthearted and filigree moments. Mussorgsky peals haunt the final Adagio maestoso but the work ends in Rawsthornian disquiet nonetheless. How valuable and fortunate we are to have these late 1950s inscriptions from Gibb.

No less so in fact the cache of Stevens recordings.  As with Rawsthorne’s Sonatina, the Five Inventions - written a year after that Sonatina - have Gibb’s imprimatur on them; they were dedicated to him. The first Adagio is brooding, almost speculative whilst the second Adagio is altogether more agitated and powerful though it sports a reflective central panel. The finale is a two part invention with a dislocated Parisian feel; highly impressive and characterful. The Op.17 Ballad journeys from terse to acerbic and thence to scurrying but does also enshrine a songful-folklike element too – albeit in a gaunt and never effusive way. Similarly the Fantasia on ‘Giles Farnaby’s Dreame’ eschews all trace of ‘hey nonny’ or easy servings up of slabs of cold meat. On the contrary this is a hugely clever and winning work, wide ranging, that evokes its source material but allows it to drift off harmonically to more diffused waters and emotive states. The return to the original Farnaby theme is as seamless as Stevens’s imagination is inspired. The final work is the Sonata in one movement, written in 1954. It shares a certain kinship with Rawsthorne perhaps, though Stevens as ever retains absolute personalisation and identity. It’s a work of concentration and reflective pang – an acute work, cumulatively moving and played with total dedication by Gibb.

There are more recent recordings of these pieces. If you need up to date sound – these Lyritas are as noted somewhat boxy – you can seek out Florian Uhlig’s splendid Dutton Epoch set of the complete Stevens works[CDLX 7160] – and for the Fantasia and the Sonata you can also dig out Jeremy Filsell’s useful Guild GMCD7119 though I have it in its first incarnation on Gamut GAM CD541. For Rawsthorne John Clegg has turned in a fine disc on Paradisum PDS CD2 which includes the Theme and Four Studies and the Ballade.

But if you want this admittedly specialised selection you could do no better than to turn to these authoritative performances by James Gibb, one of the more undersung of native players, and one of the most admirable.

Jonathan Woolf 

 

 


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