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Harold TRUSCOTT (1914-1992)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in G sharp minor, RC43 (1947-48) [24:32]
Piano Sonata No. 5 in B minor, RC62 ‘In memoriam Nicolai Medtner’ (1951-55) [25:16]
Piano Sonata No. 6 in E major, RC64 (1955-56) [40:15]
Piano Sonata No. 7 in C major, RC65 (1956) [8:36]
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E minor, RC80 (1958-60) [22:15]
Piano Sonata No. 11 in A minor RC91 (1964) [11:18]
Piano Sonata No. 12 in C major, RC103 (1967) [11:38]
Piano Sonata No. 13, RC104 (1967) [9:34]
Piano Sonata No. 15 in B minor, RC122 (1976-81) [9:46]
Piano Sonata No. 17 in G minor, RC125 (1982) [5:13]
Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in E flat minor, RC70 (1957) [6:51]
Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C major, RC71 (1957) [2:35]
Peter Jacobs (piano)
rec. 1980s, St. John’s Clerkenwell, London
HERITAGE HTGCD304 [3 CDs: 177:49]

In 1981, the British pianist Peter Jacobs began a journey recording the piano sonatas of Harold Truscott. The composer completed 17 in all (an 18th was left unfinished). Jacobs set down 10 of them, which were originally released on Altarus LPs. They now make their first appearance on this 3 CD set. At the time they were made, they constituted the first recordings ever made of Truscott’s music.

Truscott was born on August 23, 1914 in Seven Kings, Ilford, Kent. Born with a club foot, successful corrective surgery was carried out when he was three months old, but he had to wear a brace for twelve years. Musically, he was largely self-taught, but took some part-time tuition at the Guildhall School of Music with Orlando Morgan and at the Royal College of Music with, amongst others, Herbert Howells.  He taught at Blackheath Conservatoire and Huddersfield Polytechnic (now University) and was a prolific author on musical subjects. He died in 1992. Although the piano sonatas form the bulk of his oeuvre, his output also includes a small amount of vocal and orchestral music and some chamber compositions.

Rather than discuss each of the ten sonatas, my intention is to focus on the ones that particularly piqued my interest. No. 5 in B minor bears the title ‘In memoriam Nicolai Medtner’, and was spurred on by the death, in London, of Medtner in 1951. Truscott had admired the composer’s own 14 piano sonatas for many years. It took four years to complete, and the result was a large four-movement work. The Bach-like opening is a little academic sounding at first, but soon the music becomes more interesting and animated. It can sound rather barnstorming in places, and the secret is to make the contrast with the more lyrical sections, which Jacobs does, successfully. The second movement has a delightful ambling tread and builds up to great crescendos. Once again, Jacobs employs dynamic variance, to make striking contrasts. The third movement is a passacaglia on an undulating ground bass. The finale is flamboyantly dramatic. A year later in 1956, Truscott wrote his Piano Sonata No. 7 in C major. It’s the only one of the sonatas featured in this release in one movement, lasting a mere eight and a half minutes. It’s all about brevity and concision, and bears a dedication to Havergal Brian. It moves along with all guns blazing, and is a veritable tour-de-force. The fireworks at the end make a sizeable impact.

No. 6 is probably my favorite. It’s substantial, being 41 minutes in length. In four movements, the opener is upbeat and tuneful. The varied rhythms make for added interest. A pensive Adagio molto follows; the mood is serious. A jaunty march acts as a kind of scherzo third movement, and this precedes a finale of grand proportions. A favorite of the composer was No. 9 in E minor, written between 1958 and 1960. Truscott considered the first movement ”the most melodic I have ever written”, yet it demands a virtuosic technique of the highest order. The second movement is also melodically generous. No. 12 in C major is quite concise. In four movements, the second begins with a serene delicacy, but soon takes on a more assertive stance in the middle, only to return to its more composed state at the end. A brief, angular third movement gives way to a captivating Allegro molto, which brings the sonata to a close. Sonata No. 13 has no overriding key, with each of its three movements having a different tonal centre. The central movement is very dark and doleful, with an almost funereal tread. We are relieved of the gloom in the high-spirited third movement, which doesn’t have a care in the world.

Truscott penned the two Preludes and Fugues over a single weekend in 1957. No. 1 has a sedate Prelude and a fairly tranquil Fugue. No. 2’s Prelude and Fugue are more forceful. Personally, I prefer No. 1.

As is the case with the Frank Bridge Piano Music recording, which I reviewed a couple of months ago, Peter Jacobs is to lauded, this time, for resurrecting Truscott’s long forgotten sonatas. Though almost forty years old, these are well-recorded performances. I must praise Guy Rickards’ detailed commentary on the works in the accompanying booklet. He’s something of an authority on the composer, and wrote an excellent article on Truscott for MusicWeb International some years ago, which can be read here. All I all, the piano sonatas have been for me a compelling first encounter.

Stephen Greenbank

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