One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

AmazonUK AmazonUS


American Piano Sonatas Vol. 2
Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)
Piano Sonata in F sharp minor (1919) [17:32]
Roger SESSIONS (1896-1985)
Second Sonata for Piano (1946) [15:21]
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Sonata No. 1 for Piano (1901-1909) [39:22]
Peter Lawson (piano)
rec. January-February 1991, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, UK
Experience Classicsonline

EMI are past masters at the art of recycling old material – this disc was first released as a two-volume set on Virgin Classics – but that’s not to say there isn’t some wheat among the chaff. A quick glance at their American Classics series reveals a number of popular works by Barber, Bernstein, Copland and Grofé, laced with more adventurous ones from Cage, Carter, Reich and Sessions.

Pianist Peter Lawson is new to me, so I was disappointed that EMI’s meagre booklet didn’t even offer the briefest of artist biographies. However, a quick Google reveals that he is a Mancunian who combines teaching at Chetham’s with a varied concert career. I suspect Griffes is also new to most listeners – again the CD booklet won’t be very helpful here – but at least Martin Cotton’s notes on the music are reasonably informative.

Born in New York City, Griffes went to Berlin in 1903 to study with Humperdinck. He returned to the US four years later to teach at a boys’ prep school, where he stayed until his death in 1920. Cotton describes him as ‘one of the might-have-beens of American music’; that doesn’t really apply to Griffes’ derivative, orchestral works but it certainly does to the Sonata in F sharp minor. Cast in three linked movements it opens Feroce – perhaps with hints of Scriabin – but for all that one senses a work of some substance and originality.

The reflective second movement may be more French than Russian – Griffes spent some time in France – but there is a tautness, a muscularity, below the music’s supple surface that is very different. Fortunately that doesn’t preclude some inward writing – Lawson is wonderfully poised in these quieter moments – before the music returns to its more sinewy self in the final Allegro. And what a lovely transition Griffes achieves in the second half of that movement – track 5 – its gentle, rocking melody leading to a lugubrious central section and a powerful close.

This isn’t the only version of the sonata on record – see Naxos 8.559023, for instance – and listeners may be surprised to learn that there are around 80 recordings of Griffes’ works in the current catalogue. And anyone who wants to sample the composer’s earlier pieces, including The White Peacock, Three Tone Pictures and The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, should try Naxos 8.559164 (see RB’s review). These unashamedly Romantic scores are well performed by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Symphony.

It’s sobering to note that fellow New Yorker Roger Sessions was born just 12 years after Griffes, yet outlived him by 65 years. Sessions embraced serialism in his later works – including the Second Piano Sonata – which tends to give these pieces a concentrated, tightly argued structure. But while the animated, contrapuntal Allegro couldn’t be more different from the sensuous, free-flowing world of Griffes, there is a pleasing energy and variety to this music that covers its compositional tracks rather well. Indeed, anyone who is allergic to atonality will be pleasantly surprised by the gentle Lento, whose outward calm is ruffled only by the occasional dissonance.

Lawson has the measure of this work which, to my ears at least, he essays with even greater conviction than he does the Griffes. There is a sense of engagement here, not to mention an unfolding narrative that also belies the work’s serial underpinnings. Even the spikier final movement is warm and characterful, the piano a little close but always sounding clear and natural.

Probably the most formidable work here is the seven-movement Ives sonata, a series of reminiscences on Connecticut rural life in the 1880s and 1890s. On first audition these ‘programmatic’ elements – if one can call them that – may be hard to grasp, but lurking behind the gruff Ivesian façade are the usual ballads and hymn tunes that make his work so distinctive. Even the competing musical strands are present, all played with considerable brio. But Ives is also capable of tenderness; just listen to that passage beginning at 8:12 in the first movement and to the first half of the fourth. 

As a musical magpie Ives brings many scraps to the nest, including ragtime, which he then weaves into a structure that’s all his own. Lawson is alive to these borrowings and modulates between them with disarming ease. Even the untamed passages come across with conviction – in the third and fifth movements, for instance – and Lawson doesn’t falter in the bravura writing of the fourth, either.

So often one hears the criticism that Ives’s music is too perverse to enjoy – inexpert, even – yet it is that very quality that makes his music so exhilarating to listen to. The runaway sixth movement is a case in point, the mad dash followed by a little coda of great simplicity and charm. The final movement is a summation of all that’s gone before, but it’s also permeated by a sense of genial good humour. Lawson plays like a committed Ivesian, vaulting over the music’s many technical hurdles and underlining its originality at every turn.

EMI must be commended for their new American Classics series. That said, they are a long way behind Naxos, whose discs of American music – several of which I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing – are well worth collecting. And although some of these Naxos discs contain previously released material many are new to the catalogue. Also, EMI could take a leaf from Naxos’ CD booklets and try for more comprehensive liner notes and artist biographies. If Naxos can do it at this price point then so can they.

Dan Morgan


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.