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Richard STOKER Piano Music Eric Parkin   Priory PRCD659
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"A recurrent theme in my work is the surprises in everyday life which are original and unique, often 'noticed' and 'heard' whilst travelling on train or underground, or crossing stations or browsing in book shops" Thus Richard Stoker introducing his contribution to 'A Passage of Time' (Spotlight Poets 1999) For a creative artist whose thoughts are expressed in music, verse, drama, novels and short stories as well as on canvas the above 'credo' suggests a dissipation of energies! The most striking impression one receives from this CD of Stoker's piano compositions is that the amount of energy channelled here into the music must surely leave little enough for other diverse fields - and yet the colourful sleeve design, -his own Abstract No 1 - is equally expressive of a fierce energy!

Richard Stoker was born in Yorkshire in 1938. His studies with Harold Truscott and Lennox Berkeley were followed, on a Mendelssohn scholarship, by a period in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. His piano music, including as it does three sets of charmingly poetic music in a quasi-Gallic vein, two sets of Variations, two extensive Piano Sonatas and a richly luscious set of two Jazz Preludes (on lyrics of his own, the second of which has a haunting folk-like melody that lingers long in the memory), is convincingly played on this well recorded disc by Eric Parkin. In his idiosyncratic sleeve note the composer uses the adjective 'pointillistic' - and this is certainly apt in connection with the five-movement Serenade, the Regency Suite and 'A Poet's Notebook' (whose 'Parody' movement cleverly conceals 'a notable East Anglian composer' whom he doesn't identify!) Each movement of these is concerned with colour, pianistic colour illuminating deliciously poised, almost balletic, melodic lines and a sure contrapuntal sense (derived I would guess from his teacher Lennox Berkeley - the energy mentioned undoubtedly from Harold Truscott) Stoker's seemingly capricious shifts in tonality have purpose, as he himself writes

'                       Manual dexterity has extreme mobility
Shaping patterns painter-like in the air
With feats of skill so remarkably precise'

(The Juggler from 'A Passage of Time)

The Piano Variations of opus 45 explore the range of equally pointillistic effects, the prismatic colours firmly anchored by repeated pedal notes. In contrast the eleven succinct variations on the opening 'Crab' theme of the 'Zodiac Variations' are lightweight, linear in construction - and since of moderate difficulty, provide a useful introduction to his style.

The two Sonatas are heavier material. The first's sombre opening is soon pierced by shafts of light -the music ranging from dark chords to sharply repeated extended octaves. A chorale-like bass in 5/4 provides the material for the second of the txxo movements.

The second of the Sonatas is a big work in five movements (the titles of which indicate the mood Sonare, Cantare, Toccare etc) The Sonata was written for the pianist Eric Parkin and is a virtuosic work. After a chordal introduction a restless rhythmic figure appears dominating the central section, ending in "two cadence-like chords". The first of the two Adagio movements - a dark-hued exercise in contrapuntal movement - and a second Adagio frame a central 'Scherzare' whose whole-tone colouring provides atmospheric contrast. The two cadential chords lead into the second Adagio and here the composer gives the pianist a free hand with the melodic rhythms -"the parameters, as in jazz, undefined". The concluding 'Toccare' rounds up the musical argument, incorporating material from the earlier movements and also hearking back to the first Sonata of some 25 years earlier.


Colin Scott-Sutherland


Colin Scott-Sutherland

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