This expansive work for cello and piano (almost an hour in performance) happily
acknowledges its antecedents in Beethoven and Brahms - and in Bridge and
John Ireland, the latter influence most noticeable (the composer himself
also acknowledges Elgar.) The Sonata however is full of original thought
and emotive music of considerable power - played with great assurance and
conviction by the excellent soloists. Without a score for such a big work,
which was some 12 years in completion, it is necessary to write subjectively,
but the Sonatas richly coherent structure is impressive enough. There
are four movements - cyclic in that the solemn opening gently repetitive
2-chord pattern recurs, like the tolling of a bell, at the end of the work.
The two outer movements make much of deeply felt adagio passages despite
some agonised climaxes.
The composer, Francis Pott, a pupil of Robin Holloway and Hugh Wood (as well
as of the pianist Hamish Milne) reveals that the Sonata was written in memory
of his father (died 1983) and that the Finale, written in the year of his
mothers death (1995), "fought its own way out in exceptionally unpromising
in emotional terms it is thus the product of sharper
memory than what precedes it
With an opening B minor and a second subject in F minor a curious tritonal
relationship is established which carries the emotional burden not only of
the first movement but seems to suggest the anguish underlying the whole
concept, perhaps also embodied in the quotation from Alun Lewis which
heads the score of the final movement:
"Out of the depths of the sea
Love cries and cries in me
And summer blossoms break above my head
With all the unbearable beauty of the dead."
Yet there is a vein of optimism throughout the work, expressed in sonorous
cello lines. In the Scherzo, placed second, the questing cello line seems
to ask Why - its drooping figures over Rawsthorne-like piano
figuration suggesting resignation which however is duly overcome with a great
melodic surge. The third movement is a short cadenza for the cello solo -
which has much relevance to the overall material and mood, and none at all
to any kind of virtuosic showmanship. The composer, in his full and well
written sleeve note uses the word songful - in fact
rhapsodically songful which is fully realised in the music and
for me places the Sonata in the top rank of significant British chamber music
of these recent decades. Potts penultimate paragraph is a
c../graphics/redo that few composers today have da../graphics/red to utter.
It is no surprise to find that the two solo piano compositions draw their
inspiration - in the first instance via the poet Vernon Watkins - from the
sea. Hunts Bay - a stretch of the Welsh coastline - recalls
for me the mysterious doings in a cave related by Dermot OByrne in
his tale Ancient Dominions and by Arnold Bax in his First Symphony.
The final piece, from which the CD takes its title, is an impressionistic
illustration of the magic that any vista of St Kilda (Hirta in the Gaelic)
presents to a romantic such as this young composer so obviously is. I would
warmly recommend this disc to all lovers of English chamber music - and to
all Brazen Romantics.