Steven Neugarten is a multi-talented pianist whom I first encountered when
he was a prize winner in the British Music Societys piano awards. He
played the Humphrey Searle which is a contender for the finest of all British
piano sonatas. It is exceptionally difficult and demands a pianist with a
cool head and steel fingers. Ronald Smith once said, "If I could play that
sonata, I could play anything."
Therefore we have in Neugarten a master pianist.
Tippetts Sonata no 2 was first performed by Margaret Kitchen
at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival. She was a fine artiste who was the courageous
and leading exponent of modern British piano music. She bravely undertook
many first performances and I remember a disgraceful audiences insulting
response to her faithful reading of Roger Sessions Piano Concerto.
There is far too much prejudice about modern music. The sleeve note about
the Tippett is wonderfully honest and astutely written by Michael Finnissy.
He writes of this sonata ... "it can and should confuse and irritate." It
is the contrast changes of tempo and the pointless comings and goings that
I find disconcerting and the repetition of a seven note figure becomes wearisome.
Yet Tippetts skill cannot be doubted and the work has some great moments.
Nicholas Sackmans Sonata of 1984 is far more coherent in its
form and structure in three sections - fast, slow, fast. It is decidedly
pianistic and is often fascinating. The work requires a highly accomplished
player and has a fine advocate in Neugarten. The quick passages are exhilarating;
the slow movement has a melody but some may find it a little overlong; the
finale is unquestionably impressive although its end may appear to be a little
The Chacony by Robert Saxton dates from 1988. It takes a while to
get going and by then some listeners may have lost interest. The lively passages
are very rewarding and it is generally a good piece for a difficult medium.
Any recording of music by Justin Connolly is always welcome. I am not convinced
that these five studies (the third of which is a chaconne by the way) make
up a successful sonatina since the movements do not appear to be related.
The best of the five pieces have an energy and onward motion and I believe
the composer is being far too modest in claiming this to be a sonatina.
It is a welcome disc although the music is rather like the curates
egg ... good in parts. But let me not deter you. Lovers of British music
should buy it.