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Ivor Gurney and Howard Ferguson [pictured]
Mark Bebbington (piano)
Somm DRD0230 [74 mins]

Arnold Bax Vol.1
Ashley Wass (piano)
Naxos 8.557439 [74 mins]

Franck, Chopin & Hindemith

Alicja Fiderkiewicz (piano)
Dunelm DRD0230 [60 mins]

Howard Ferguson
Raphael Terroni (piano)
Naxos 8.572289

Mark Bebbington has attracted interest with his exploration of British piano sonatas but I found his recital at St John's, London, perplexing and disappointing last week. He included some small pieces by Gurney and Howard Ferguson's sonata (1940),which Myra Hess used to champion. I had her HMV 78 of it and enjoyed working at it at the piano in the '50s. It was hyped up in a pre-recital talk (Lewis Foreman reminded us that it was the first British sonata to be recorded, long before Bax's) but on this occasion it did not match my memories which had caused me to attend.

Bebbington seemed to be a competent but too literal pianist, with little differentation of textures between his two hands. Also, he was tied to the score and his skills seemed at their limit, with far too many wrong notes. Better, of course, on the Somm studio recording, but still unpersuasive to me.

It was shown up by Ashley Wass in his second CD for Naxos, the first release in a Bax Piano Works edition (Lewis Foreman does first class notes for this, as well as for Somm on Gurney and Ferguson). Arnold Bax (1883-1953, Master of the King's Musick) is not a composer I would often listen to, but the sweep and consummate pianistic command here are compelling under Wass's hands. The early sonatas here (1910 & 1919) are structurally interesting and well differentiated, the Lisztian first one expanded from a Romantic Tone-Poem and renamed.

Bax had a full textural palette from the piano at his command, and the probable pleasure of coping with two lady pianist dedicatees to satisfy, Myra Hess and Harriet Cohen. There are several smaller pieces, Dream in Exile quite substantial at 12 mins. This is an auspicious bargain CD and I hope Ashley Wass will be able to retain his commitment in later volumes; I am always a little apprehensive about intégrales.
[Vol. 2 of Ashley Wass's Bax series is due for release next Spring.]

Alicja Fiderkiewicz may well be a name new to you as to me? She teaches at Chetham's (Manchester) and at their international Summer School last month gave master classes, and this distinguished recital. It is recorded live by Jim Pattison unfussily, and he apologises (unnecessarily) for a little audience noise and compromise with microphone placing. I found it all very satisfying.

It was Hindemith's 3rd sonata (1936) which temped me to put it straight onto the CD player upon arrival (too many awaiting their turns in the queue, to quote IRR's regular end column!) and it revived memories of playing them when they were thought of as difficult new music. I found it fresh on re-acquaintance and it should be heard more often, likewise the larger No.1

Alicja Fiderkiewicz begins with a magisterial account of Franck's treacherous tryptich Prélude, choral et fugue, which I have struggled with at the piano to little avail, and which I had not heard since it was featured in Ashley Wass's imposing debut recital disc, and in a monumental performance by Sokolov at Lucerne. Her pacing and voicing of those spread arpeggios (the melodic line picked out by the left hand on top) is impeccable and free from strain or accidents. She keeps the flow going with intensity, but never overcrowding the textures, which can easily sound too dense. She is a fully equipped pianist, with technique in reserve, so that she can devote herself to balance and sound quality. The recital is completed with idiomatic accounts of impromptus by Chopin, the Barcarolle and Nocturne Op 27/1 as encore. Fresh off the press, so no sound extracts yet on Dunelm's website. Recommended.

More Howard Ferguson
Raphael Terroni and colleagues

Another Ferguson disc also brings a modern performance of the Piano Sonata, which it is good to hear sometimes. As with Bebbington (above) Terroni does not quite bring back the frisson that I remembered (how reliably?) with Myra Hess... The Bagatelles are also well deserving of an occasional airing, more so than the songs.

But most worthwhile in this compendioum is the Partita which goes so well with two pianos as to leave you wondering why the composer bothered to orchestrate it simultaneously; the orchestral version is long forgotten... It develops styles drawn from the Baroque in its four strong movements.


© Peter Grahame Woolf