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Alan RICHARDSON (1904-1978)
Piano Music
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. 2017/18, Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys, UK
LYRITA SRCD381 [72:18]

Alan Richardson’s name has been largely forgotten, alas; he was unquestionably one of the most important teachers and advocates for music education Britain produced in the twentieth century. Edinburgh-born, he found work as a house accompanist with the BBC there in his early twenties, before studying at the Royal Academy and with the celebrated pedagogue Harold Craxton, whose fondly remembered oboist daughter Janet would become Richardson’s wife more than thirty years later. He continued his work as a much-coveted accompanist and chamber musician over the next couple of decades, while teaching at the Academy and acting as a humane and encouraging examination adjudicator. He comes across as a delightful chap in Paul Conway’s affectionate and informative note, and reading about him and his life may induce some listeners to muse on Hindemith’s concept of Gebrauchsmusik, the idea that music’s real purpose is to be useful or practical. Lyrita seem to have issued this single disc to act as a ‘taster’ for their five disc survey of Richardson’s piano music (released simultaneously); it is this genre that absolutely dominates his output. The compilation includes a few stand-alone miniatures, some bleeding chunks – excerpts from larger collections and some educational/training pieces.

The two most substantial complete ‘opuses’ on this album date from Alan Richardson’s mid-fifties, and amply demonstrate both the strengths and limitations of his music. The Three Pieces for Shura Cherkassky, of 1959, reveal at once Richardson’s seemingly innate gift for crafting perfectly formed piano music, here of a more overtly virtuosic cast than most of his oeuvre. The opening Tableau’ is appealingly jaunty, set in whirls and cascades of high-flung piano sound; it certainly goes off in some unexpected modulatory directions, while ‘Silver Nights’ is a more conventionally designed nocturne. The final piece is more substantial, a ‘Fantasy Study’ whose passage work and harmonic progressions strongly suggest Prokofiev. These sturdy, idiomatic pieces all seem to sit comfortably under the experienced Martin Jones’ nimble fingers, and epitomise the sound of British piano music of the time.

The Sonatina which emerged the following year nods towards Ravel in its agreeable opening Allegro, while the central Lento Moderato has something of that composer’s Pavane pour une infante défunte and Le tombeau de Couperin about it, before a concluding Vivace which seems more indebted to baroque or even earlier models. It’s all finely wrought and agreeable but I’m afraid I can only really imagine playing this disc as background music, for beyond its surface glitter and ease of communication there is little of real substance to demand and compel one’s attention. While one is left in no doubt of Richardson’s prodigious ability to create piano music which will test and improve a player’s technique, one is less convinced by the musical material itself; it seems to lack the individual voice of say, an Erik Chisholm or an Alan Rawsthorne, to identify two exact contemporaries. In many cases I suspect that even sympathetic listeners may end up playing the game of ‘spot the influence’.

Notwithstanding that caveat, this sampler does have attractions. The rather ambiguous Lento piacevole piques one’s curiosity enough to want to hear the rest of Richardson’s Sonata No 2 from 1967; it melds dark Satie-like chords with a tentative and strange dance-like episode. There is a delightful free transcription of the famous Minuet from Boccherini’s E major quintet, Op 11 No 5 (the one ‘not’ performed by the rogues in the immortal Ealing comedy The Ladykillers) – the tune is expertly and imaginatively disguised in an extended introduction which is splendidly conceived in terms of the instrument. The other transcription here, of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, is affectionate but lacks the individuality of the Boccherini arrangement. On Heather Hill is an attractive and very British sounding miniature for two pianos; yet it is undeniably of its time. Many of the other items strike this listener, at least, as being somewhat more perfunctory, alas.

Martin Jones is, as always an estimable and clearly enthusiastic guide to this repertoire, while the Lyrita piano sound is of a very high order. British music and Lyrita die-hards will want this disc, and it may well tempt some to invest in the five disc Richardson survey. Hats off to the label in any case for keeping a good man’s name and legacy alive.

Richard Hanlon
Track List:
Bagatelle (1938) [3:49]
Clorinda (1938) [2:57]
Boccherini, transcr. Richardson: Minuet in A major (1939) [4:23]
On Heather Hill, for 2 Pianos (1946) (with Adrian Farmer) [4:37]
Rondo (1947) [5:37]
Rachmaninov, transcr. Richardson: Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 1 (1951) [5:38]
Marionette, Op 29 No 2 (1955) [2:27]
Nocturne Op. 30: No. 2 in E-Flat (1957) [3:12]
Sonata, Op. 26 (1958): II. Vivace [2:53]
‘The Running Brook’ from Three Educational Pieces (1958) [1:49]
Three Pieces, Op. 35 for Shura Cherkassky (1959) [11:09]
Sonatina in F Major, Op. 27 (1960) [7:43]
Ballerina (1960) [1:29]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in D, Op. 39 (1967?): Lento piacevole [5:43]
Kaleidoscope, 10 tone-sketches, Op. 52 (1967) - Nos. 1, 2, 4 & 5 [5:14}
-Nos 8, 9 & 10 [3:35]

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