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Edward GREGSON (b. 1945)
Complete Music for Solo Piano

Murray McLachlan, Rose McLachlan, Edward Gregson (piano)
rec. January 2020 Stoller Hall Manchester, UK
Premiere recordings
NAXOS 8.574222 [71:59]

Edward Gregson is well-known for his orchestral music, especially the concertos, and for his music for brass; all are well-represented on disc. New to recordings, and I’m sure to many listeners, is his piano music-here recorded in time for the composer’s 75th year. Appropriately enough, most of the music on this disc has a personal connection of one sort or another.

The totality of Gregson’s piano music dates from three periods-the mid-sixties when he was a student, the early eighties, and the last decade. The two earliest pieces are familial in origin. The Lullaby was written for the birth of the composer’s niece Jane Ann and is both charming and more harmonically interesting than one would expect. A year later Gregson wrote A Song for Sue, an engagement present for his wife-to-be. Based on a theme from the earliest of his concertos, it proves quite expressive.

The years 1981-83 saw a revival of Gregson’s interest in the piano after a lapse of almost two decades. Four Pictures is in one way a sequel to A Song for Sue-it was written for the composer’s sons Mark and Justin to play. The set starts with a march, followed by a slow waltz, and then a sort of homage to Bartok-a favorite composer of Gregson’s. These three are comparatively simple. The fourth is both the most thoughtful and the most dissonant, prefiguring the Sonata two years down the road. A year earlier Gregson visited New York and Friday a.m. is his portrait of a Manhattan jazz club in the early hours. While atmospheric it is the least impressive of the pieces on this disc.

Gregson’s two remaining piano works from the eighties are also his most substantial for the instrument. The Six Little Pieces pays homage to Schoenberg in more than just the work’s title and shows the composer opening up new territory. The Piano Sonata in one movement pays homage to Michael Tippett and specifically to that composer’s Piano Sonata No. 2. It is based on six motivic cells which Gregson calls “tempi”. The first movement shows Gregson manipulating the first four tempi to provide a great variety of contrast while the second shows his skill at organizing his material. The tendencies of the two movements are combined in the last movement- complete synthesis of material yielding great expressiveness.

After the Sonata Gregson wrote no piano music for almost thirty years. In 2011 he wrote a short piece for a friend’s birthday and then expanded the idea to a set of pieces based on forms from Bach’s English and French suites, each dedicated to a friend. The set demonstrates Gregson’s contrapuntal ability while never losing sight of the personal element. These pieces are of medium difficulty but the Three Études of 2020 are fully virtuosic. The first Étude was written as memorial to a friend and Gregson wrote the other two specifically for this recording. The first is both tense and volatile. The second, dedicated to Murray McLachlan, is a gentle nocturne while the third, dedicated to Jonathan Scott, is full of harmonic interest. The second and third are among the most impressive pieces on the disc. They show that Gregson has lost none of his touch in his 75th year.

Murray McLachlan has been on the scene for close to forty years and has done wonders for both Russian and Scottish music. But he is at least equally at home with other types of contemporary music. He demonstrates complete understanding of Gregson’s unique combination of contrast and control. On this disc he is ably assisted, not for the first time, by his daughter Rose in the Four Pictures. To add to the familial element Edward Gregson performs A Song for Sue. A fine disc for all interested in modern British piano music.

William Kreindler

Previous review: Philip Buttall

An Album for my Friends (2011)
Paul’s Prelude [1:48]
Adam’s Allemande [1:10]
Clare’s Courante [1:57]
Stefan’s Sarabande [2:00]
Gaynor’s Gavotte [1:27]
Brian’s Bourrée [0:38]
Bethan’s Bourrée [0:55]
Brian’s Bourrée (repeat) [0:43]
Maggie’s Minuet [2:42]
Gavin’s Gigue [1:35]
Phil’s Postlude [2:01]
Three Études (2020)
Fast and Rhythmic [2:00]
Not Too Slow, Gently [3:08]
Fast, with Energy [1:59]
Lullaby (1965) [2:58]
A Song for Sue (1966) [3:57]
Four Pictures for Piano Duet (1982)
Quite Fast, but Majestic [1:03]
Quite Slow and Thoughtful [1:12]
Lively [1:11]
Quite Slow and Sad [2:14]
Six Little Piano Pieces (1993 Version)
Quite Slow and Precisely [1:26]
Fast and Playful [0:46]
Flowing [1:24]
Not Too Fast [1:23]
Gently and with Expression [2:04]
With Energy [2:08]
Friday a.m. (1981) [6:23]
Piano Sonata in one Movement (1983)
Tempi I-4 [4:45]
Tempi 1-3, plus Tempi 5-6 [7:54]
Tempi 1-5 [6:18]

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