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Alan RICHARDSON (1904-1978) Piano Music
Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer (pianos)
rec. 2017/18, Nimbus Foundation Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, UK LYRITA SRCD2373 [5 CDs: 346.30]
The music of Alan Richardson, with the exception of a handful of chamber pieces and sonatas, seems to have been treated with total neglect since his death in 1978; and moreover his output seems to have somewhat fallen under a cloud even before then, as the dates of the scores given in the comprehensive collection of his piano music demonstrate that all the works he composed after 1960 appear to remain unpublished and in manuscript. Indeed it may well be that some of the pieces here are receiving their first performances, although Lyrita, with commendable caution, refrain from claiming any of the items as première recordings. His neglect may have been compounded by the fact that he never seems to have written any music at all on a large scale with the solitary exception of a ‘junior concerto’ for piano and orchestra; but Paul Conway does contend, in discussing the Sonata for two pianos, that “those who think of the composer as a miniaturist should note in this piece the apparent ease with which protean ideas are worked out on a broad canvas.”
Most performers, and most record companies, given the obscurity of the music, would be content to let us hear a selection of the piano pieces composed by Richardson over the course of more than forty years; but Martin Jones and Lyrita have taken the bull by the horns, providing us with what appears to be every piece that the composer wrote for piano, piano duet and two pianos extending over five well-filled discs.
Moreover, they have sensibly divided the music into two CDs of ‘concert pieces’ written between 1950 and 1967, another disc of generally earlier ‘pieces without opus numbers’ (or indeed, in three instances, titles), yet another of ‘educational and grade pieces’ and a final CD of the works for piano duet and two pianos in which Martin Jones is joined by Adrian Farmer. Five of the pieces are arrangements (Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Vivaldi, Paganini, Boccherini and Handel), and the remainder are original. The track listing is of great assistance in allocating the music to the various periods of Richardson’s career both as a composer and as a performer (with speculative dates given for some of the pieces) assisted by nine pages of copious notes by Paul Conway.
There is also a single CD recently released by Lyrita which is a selection from this complete set (review).
Having said which, most of the music on the first disc, covering concert pieces mainly written during the 1950s, does definitely fall into the character of miniatures, charming and attractive but with no very serious claims on the attention with the exception of the first Piano Sonata of 1958 with its vivacious and catchy scherzo surrounded by two more extended movements of which the Lento sostenuto finale has a decidedly introspective atmosphere. The two sonatinas, by contrast, are more lightweight pieces and – with the exception of the Rachmaninov transcription – only one of the movements here extends much beyond three minutes. Many of the movements on the second disc of concert pieces are even shorter, although there are a couple of more substantial items including the second Piano Sonata written around 1967 with an affecting central slow movement. But the most impressive item here is the 1959 Rhapsody, Op.57, which abounds in mischievous contrasts and spectacular passages of unbridled virtuosity which of course are fully relished by Martin Jones; there is a spirit here which evokes the shade of Moeran. For some unfathomable reason the piece was not performed for fully fifteen years after its composition. The eighth movement of Kaleidoscope (inconveniently placed in the middle of a track) also grabs the attention; it was premièred in the same concert as the Rhapsody to commemorate the composer’s 70th birthday.
The third disc of “pieces without opus numbers” comprises generally earlier works, and these are often more substantial than the ‘numbered’ pieces that succeeded them. Longest of all are the Sketches on a theme of Haydn, a series of variations on the main theme from the slow movement of the Surprise Symphony, but they tend towards the routine and the most effective of the transcriptions here is that of the Pavane familiar from Warlock’s Capriol Suite. Best known of these pieces is the rondel The dreaming spires, but its pastel charms seem somewhat faded now. Of the titled miniatures The wayfarer (from thirteen years later) now seems the most darkly impressive, with its ending almost suspended in mid-air; and its more extensive development in an untitled version from the 1950s has a real sense of contemplation with uneasily shifting harmonies.
The use of descriptive titles also distinguishes most of the miniatures which comprise the fourth disc, devoted to “educational and grade pieces”, although it appears that some of these whimsical descriptions may have been appended as afterthoughts clearly designed to appeal to the young players at whom the exercises were aimed. A whole collection of short pieces designed primarily for the practical use of students could be bland or uninteresting (how many listeners would sit down regularly and listen to a recording of the earlier books of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos for pleasure?) but the charms of these slight pieces nevertheless has an appeal to the listener as well as the performer.
The opening items on the final disc, devoted to works for piano duet and two pianos, also fall into the general category of miniatures, and most of them were written in the period before 1946. That was also the date of the Sonata for two pianos – and this constitutes a much more substantial work than anything else on these discs, lasting nearly half an hour. The slow introduction immediately establishes a brooding presence and a slow acceleration into the main body of the opening movement is impeccably graduated in this performance. The liaison between Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer is excellently co-ordinated, with the scherzo-like material bringing a real sense of exhilaration. After that comes a central slow movement which again provides plenty of contrast and rises to impassioned heights; one might suspect the middle section to reflect Sid’s arietta from Albert Herring, were it not for the fact that Britten’s opera came a year later, and the development is decidedly more dramatic. The finale begins with a vigorous gesture, and the almost folk-like material is given a thorough-going rumbustious workout in an extended argument that occupies nearly ten minutes; indeed the first and last movements of this sonata constitute the two longest single pieces in the whole of these five CDs. Paul Conway’s remarks about this piece quoted in the opening paragraph of this review prove to be fully justified, and it makes a most satisfactory conclusion to this collection.
Although the booklet notes are given exclusively in English, the presentation of this box is generally excellent with all five CDs contained within a standard double-CD box with an additional fold-out at the back to accommodate the final disc. I cannot imagine that anybody will wish to listen through all five discs without interruption (I spread my listening over several weeks) but most of the music here is entertaining, and sometimes considerably more than that. New listeners should probably begin with the Sonata for two pianos, and then explore the smaller pieces at their leisure. A most welcome discovery.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Contents CD 1-2 Concert pieces
Sonatina (1950) [9.51]
Rachmaninov: Vocalise (1951) [5.38]
Elegy, Op.22/2 (1952) [2.57]
Vivaldi: Largo from Concerto for two violins (1952) [2.55]
Four Romantic Studies, Op.25 (1954) [7.15]
Piano Sonata No 1, Op.26 (1958) [15.15]
Sonatina in F, Op.27 (1960) [7.43]
Two Short Impromptus, Op.28 (1958) [3.26]
Two Pieces, Op.29 (1955) [6.32]
Two Nocturnes, Op.30 (1957) [7.07]
Character Sketches, Op.31 (1957) [8.33]
Two Country Pictures, Op.34 (1958) [6.37]
Three Pieces, Op.35 (1959) [11.10]
Rhapsody, Op.37 (1959) [8.09]
Piano Sonata No 2 in D, Op.39 (1967?) [18.51]
Kaleidoscope, Op.52 (1967) [12.00]
Three Piano Pieces ‘non graded’ (1967) [5.52] CD 3 Pieces without opus numbers
[untitled] in E flat (1935) [6.06]
Moment musical in G sharp minor (1935) [4.15]
The Dreaming Spires (1935) [3.43]
Pastoral sketch (1935) [3.39]
Meadowlands (1937) [3.04]
Pavane (16th century) (1935) [3.52]
Bagatelle (1938) [3.46]
Sketches on a theme of Haydn (1938?) [12.34]
Minuet by Boccherini (1939) [4.24]
Sonata after Paganini (1940s?) [6.59]
[untitled] in E major (1940s?) [4.53]
Rondo (1947) [5.37]
The Wayfarer (1949) [3.42]
[untitled] (1950s?) [3.42]
Jack in the Green (c.1954) [2.24]
[untitled setting of ‘The Wayfarer’ tune] (1950s?) [4.24] CD 4 Educational and Grade pieces
Clorinda (1938) [3.00]
Five short pieces (1950) [6.36]
Three Grade pieces (1950s) [5.11]
Suite in D, Op.38 (1956) [10.05]
Two Grade 6 Pieces (1957) [4.34]
Three Educational Pieces (1957-9) [6.17]
Three Grade Pieces (1959) [7.32]
Three Pieces (1960) [7.38]
Three late educational pieces (1960s?) [7.31]
Suite from Handel’s Water Music (1954) [4.12] CD 5 Works for piano duet and two pianos
Improvisation on a nursery tune (1937) [2.27]
Waltz (1939) [2.47]
Passepied (1939) [1.46]
Débutante (1946) [2.49]
Presto (1946) [4.44]
Grandmother’s waltz (1946) [3.54]
Caprice on a theme of Liszt (undated) [4.33]
On Heather Hill (1946) [4.40]
Sonata for two pianos (1946) [29.18]
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