In a finely judged programmatic coup, Benjamin Dale’s big-boned
Piano Sonata of 1902-05 is coupled with a work by its dedicatee,
York Bowen — the Miniature Suite, written at almost exactly
the same time as the Sonata. The two men were fast friends,
having met at the Royal Academy of Music. Nor was Bowen the
work’s only advocate, as over the years Myra Hess, Irene Scharrer
and Benno Moiseiwitsch performed it, as did, from a later generation,
This is the third commercial recording of the sonata, to my
knowledge. The first was Peter Jacobs’s pioneering Continuum
disc [CCD1044], which was recorded in December 1991 and issued
the following year. Much more recently Mark Bebbington released
his version on Somm [SOMMCD097]. Jacobs’s disc had the same
three Dale pieces as Danny Driver performs; Bebbington took
another route, coupling the sonata with William Hurlstone’s
Sonata in F minor.
Dale’s Sonata is a striking example of confidence unusual in
British composers writing for the piano at the time, not least
in its 42 or so minute length. All three pianists under discussion
however have their own very definite views on the matter. Jacobs
is more ‘deciso’ (as marked) than either of his colleagues;
harder and more centred of tone, more determined, whereas Driver
opens in a much more pliant and almost confidential manner,
and Bebbington mines the full romantic and expressive potential
of the music. Both he and Driver therefore take time to get
going; Jacobs is straight on with the musical argument, a more
straightforward pragmatism augmented by his more clinical recording.
This leads to a more metrical approach all-round from him. All
three deal with the Straussian dance motifs in the first movement,
and with the rich chording, and the sometimes lush harmonic
writing, as well as the passionate restatement of the opening
Dale’s schema in the work is an opening Allegro deciso
followed by a slow movement, scherzo and finale. The same layout
applies to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. In his drier acoustic Jacobs
strikes a fine balance between the more macabre elements of
the second movement variations and their more glowing extroversion.
Driver uses less rubato than Jacobs; Bebbington is the most
overtly romantic performer of the three. All manage the Beethoven-to-Romance
trajectory of the Andante section [track 10] very adeptly. In
the finale it’s Driver who, true to his name, drives through
the most coruscatingly. He shaves a minute off Jacobs’ timing
for this movement alone and is more incisive than Bebbington
We are fortunate to have three such different, and differently
impressive, recordings from which to choose. Both Jacobs and
Driver, as noted, play Prunella (1923) and Night Fancies
(1909). The former is a charming genre piece; true to form Driver
gets through it more athletically. Night Fancies evokes
Westminster chimes. Driver here is the more impressionistic
in his performance, Jacobs, again, the more direct, the less
‘cloudy’ in his pedalling and phrasing. It’s a lovely piece,
well worth getting to know.
Bowen’s Miniature Suite offers a pendant to the Dale feast.
It’s all light-heart and froth, from the spirited high-jinks
of the Humoresque to the virtuosic power-play of the
Scherzo finale via a delightful but not-too-serious Nocturne.
There are no qualms about performance or recording. Add this
to your British Piano Collection without reservation.