When I began being earnestly interested in British
music, I literally plundered the wonderful Lyrita catalogue
with zeal and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I must admit that I
missed some of the earlier LPs, and particularly the ones under
review. This was for some very simple reasons. First that John
White’s name actually meant nothing at all to me until I realised
that he had composed a large amount of piano sonatas - Paul
Conway mentions 166 of them - of all sizes. Second, I was mostly
attracted then by orchestral music, which is why I did not buy
the Hoddinott disc either. I thus welcome this opportunity to
make belated acquaintance with them.
White’s Piano Sonata No.1, composed when
he was hardly twenty, is a considerable achievement: the writing
is remarkably assured and the formal mastery already quite clear.
This is especially clear in the final movement: in effect a
passacaglia conceived as a concise recapitulation of what has
been heard before in the piece. The Piano Sonata No.4
and Piano Sonata No.5 date from 1959. Both are in a single,
albeit at times sectional, movement. They are quite different
in character. The Fourth Piano Sonata - incidentally the longest
here - is almost a suite in disguise falling into six sections.
By contrast, the Fifth Sonata is made up of a series of rather
disparate episodes without any apparent inner logic: the music
proceeds block-like reminding one of late Havergal Brian as
rightly suggested by Paul Conway in his as usual excellent notes.
I also agree with Mr Conway when he states that the Fifth Sonata
is one of the composer’s most enigmatic pieces - although to
be quite frank with you, I certainly do not know as much about
White’s music as Paul. I found the Fourth Piano Sonata quite
enjoyable and readily accessible. The Piano Sonata No.9
is a step forward to the greater concision that characterises
some of the later sonatas. In spite of the brevity and compactness
of the piece, the music is tightly argued - no mean achievement.
The music of these early piano sonatas is still largely indebted
to a wide, mid-20th century tradition; and, as such,
is eminently accessible, if a bit eclectic. Since then, John
White has continued to compose yet more piano sonatas, some
of which are available on NMC D038. I really should listen to
that disc which contains a selection of the sonatas from No.15
up to No.124 all played by Roger Smalley.
piano sonatas are somewhat better known, were it only because
commercial recordings of the first ten were released by Nimbus
several years ago (Martin Jones on NI5369 and NI5370). After
these recordings were made, Hoddinott composed three later sonatas
that still await their first recording. However, at the time
these Lyrita recordings were made, the works were still fairly
new and little known, although John Ogdon had recorded the Second
Piano Sonata for EMI on LP: ALP 2098. The Piano Sonata No.1
Op.17 already represents Hoddinott at his most personal
and the music clearly displays many characteristic fingerprints
that make it immediately recognisable. The Piano Sonata No.2
Op.27 is if anything more mature than its predecessor. However,
it is rather more concise and, as a whole, conveys the lasting
impression of a composer in full command of his aims and means.
The LP also included three shorter piano works that, curiously
enough, have, I think, never been recorded since then. Hoddinott
has composed a number of works or movements titled nocturne
or night music. These include Nocturnes
and Cadenzas Op.62 (now re-issued on Lyrita
SRCD.332) and Night Music Op.48 (1966, once on ARGO
ZRG 824). The fairly early Nocturne No.1 Op.9 was preceded
by a yet earlier orchestral work Nocturne Op.5 (1952).
The music of the two Nocturnes and of the Elegy Op.18 No.3
speaks for itself and does not call for any particular comment,
except to say that each perfectly achieves a maximum of expression
with a minimum of means and in a perfectly judged time-span.
I should add that the Elegy Op.18 No.3 was later incorporated
into a four-movement suite for clavichord or piano.
These performances are, without doubt, excellent,
the more so when considering that these players have had a lasting
association with both composers and their music. Colin Kingsley
gave the first performance of White’s First Piano Sonata and
was the dedicatee of the Fourth Piano Sonata as well. He also
gave the first performance of Hoddinott’s Second Piano Sonata.
Valerie Tryon, too, had a long association with Hoddinott’s
music since she premiered a number of his piano works. The sound
is still remarkably fine throughout in spite of its age, which
says a lot about the quality of Lyrita’s recordings.
In short, this is a most welcome re-issue and
is well worth having for the White Sonatas and for the three
shorter Hoddinott works of which this is the only available
See also review by Bob Briggs