Peter DICKINSON (b. 1934)
Translations: Early Chamber Works
Sonatina for Recorder and Piano (1956) [6:06]
Lullaby for Clarinet and Piano (1967/82) [3:47]
Translations for Recorder, Gamba and Harpsichord (1971) [11:51]
Threnody for Cello and Piano (1956) [6:48]
Four Duos for Flute and Cello (1962) [9:28]
Fantasy for Clarinet and Piano (1956) [4:23]
Sonatina for Solo Bassoon (1966) [10:22]
Waltz for Elliott Schwartz for Piano (2016) [1:07]
Freda’s Blues for Piano (2016) [2:53]
Lullaby from ‘The Unicorns’ for Piano (1967/2016) [3:22]
Rosie Burton (bassoon)
Harvey Davies (harpsichord)
Peter Dickinson, Joseph Havlat, Peter Lawson (piano)
Lydia Hillerudh (cello)
Stuart Eminson (clarinet)
Rosanna Ter-Berg (flute)
Richard Tunnicliffe (gamba)
John Turner (recorders)
rec. 2017, Carole Nash Recital Room, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, England.
PRIMA FACIE PFNSCD009 [60:58]
I first encountered Peter Dickinson’s music with the Piano and Organ Concertos way back in the 1980s in a recording that has since been re-released on Albany Records (review). Returning to these after what must be decades, my impression of admirable technique, enjoyable material and rather more enigmatic structural momentum remains, though I recall returning to the recording with a certain fascination, and perhaps a search for something never quite resolved.
The pieces in this new collection date largely from an earlier period in Dickinson’s work, starting with works during which he was honing his skills as a student at Cambridge, and including chamber and occasional pieces from moments in a distinguished composing career.
The Sonatina for Recorder and Piano started out as a piece for flute and piano, but was later adapted, the version heard here being given its premiere in 2013. This is a brief and highly enjoyable work in three movements, the first a rousing joust between recorder and piano in sonata form, the second an elegiac canon, and the finale “a comedy where melodies from the previous movements appear.”
The Lullaby for clarinet and piano is a lovely tune originally intended for an unfinished opera, while Translations could hardly be more of a contrast. Commissioned by an early music trio consisting of David Munro, Oliver Brooks and Christopher Hogwood, this is an early example of old instruments being made use of by contemporary composers – now very much on-trend in numerous educational institutes and beyond. Extended techniques and at times quite spiky melodic gestures create an odd contrast with sonorities more familiar in 18th century repertoire, but that’s part of the point. This is more than a mere ‘bag of tricks’ and has some spectacular moments, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if it stands the endurability test.
The Threnody for Cello and Piano is another student work, with an eloquence and passion behind its not inconsiderable substance. The Four Duos for Flute and Cello are again a contrast in terms of musical flavour, using serial tone-row from Charles Ives’ Three Page Sonata as a basis for three of the movements. Atonality is by no means an automatic indicator of difficulty, and the music here is often witty and dramatic in its dynamics and articulation.
The Fantasy for Clarinet and Piano is a tuneful student work – not in any way superficial, and indeed quite luscious in its piano writing, something Dickinson ascribes to his admiration of the music of Lennox Berkley at the time. The Sonatina for Solo Bassoon owes its origin to a bassoon player the composer heard in Paris. The French style meant that high notes became part of the work; something that English players found impossible at the time. With a few edits the version here played with virtuoso panache by Rosie Burton retains its own considerable technical challenges, but the piece keeps up a distinctive narrative feel over its three movements and is fascinating from start to finish.
The last three pieces are grouped as a collection of piano solos. The Waltz for Elliott Schwartz was written for that American composer’s 80th birthday and includes a musical sequence of notes based on his surname. Freda’s Blues is a tribute to Lady Berkeley and is based on a song by Sir Lennox, and the programme is brought to a fitting close with another version of the Lullaby with which we started.
This is a highly enjoyable programme of rarely heard music by one of Great Britain’s great living composers. As the first of an edition of two releases it would enhance anyone’s collection of chamber music from any era, and with fine performances and excellent recordings serves as a valuable addition to the Peter Dickinson catalogue.
Previous review: John France