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Christopher GUNNING (b. 1944)
Sonata for Pianoforte (2014) [26:55]
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (2014) [27:24]
Diana Brekalo (piano)
London Piano Trio
rec. 5-6 July 2015, Potton Hall, Studios

Here are two comparative recent works by a composer we have come to know through his orchestral works. He spared no expense in starting at the ambitious end of the scale with CDs of symphonies 1 (with piano concerto - review), 3/4 (review ~ review), 5 (review) and 6/7 (review). The Symphony for Brass Band: Yorkshire Glory was recorded and emerged on CD some years ago (review). I missed out on that and whatever happened to the Second Symphony? There's an Eighth as well. Three of Gunning's concertos can be heard on a Discovery CD (review) as can his Saxophone Concerto On Hungerford Bridge (review) issued by ASV. He made his way for many years through writing music for cinema and the small screen and Chandos have a splendid collection from that genre (review ~ review).

Gunning was a pupil of Edmund Rubbra and of Richard Rodney Bennett. The Piano Sonata is in five contrasted movements - three fast and two slow, alternating fast and slow. This music is not difficult to come to terms with. Gunning presents us with no obstacles. The language in the Sonata strikes me as related to that of Frank Bridge's Piano Sonata. There's an angularity there but blended with the motoric aspects of the Prokofiev wartime sonatas and something close to the unbrookable energy of Conlon Nancarrow. The two slow movements are tenderly affecting - almost but not quite elegiac. The performance - by the dedicatee and champion of the work - feels utterly centred and fluent. The four movement Trio was written for the London Piano Trio. Again the idiom and the performance is engaging. The first movement was written after a visit to Ravel's house at Montfort l'Amaury. A conscious tribute to the French composer, this movement is crystal clear and speaks in fervent Ravelian tones. Walking with Alan recalls the young Gunning's walks with Alan Bush. It seems to capture the older composer's busy brilliance and even his abrasion in a manner that glimpses grandeur. There's also something of John Ireland, Bush's teacher, in these pages. The third movement is entitled Faded Photographs. Here the music was prompted by browsing family photos. What we hear is not all happy and poignant; some of the memories unearthed are, as the composer says, "tinged with regret" and even brusquely disturbing; how could it be otherwise? The finale — A Family Argument — is rife with irritation, a ruthlessly insistent energy and even nobility as well as a searching rapturous Howells-like quality. The ending is low key - a musical wink, perhaps.

The sound quality on this disc is direct, unmisted and warm. The economical liner-notes are by the composer. The Violin Concerto and the Cello Concerto were recorded in late September 2015 by Harriet Mackenzie (violin) and Richard Harwood (cello). The Royal Philharmonic are conducted by the composer. I look forward to hearing them.

Rob Barnett



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