These two epic, late romantic romantic Piano Sonatas make a valuable contribution to the catalogue of English music on record: Piano Sonata in D minor by Benjamin Dale (1885 – 1943) and Piano Sonata in F minor by William Hurlstone (1876 – 1906) recorded by the remarkable Mark Bebbington who, in collaboration with SOMM, has carried out an unprecedented amount of work and research in the field of British music during the last 7 or 8 years, many of these making their first appearance on disc.
Mark Bebbington Piano
Indeed the Hurlstone Sonata is still unpublished and this is its premiere recording.
William Hurlstone was born in London’s Fulham in 1876. He was recognised early on as a prodigious young musician by both Grove and Parry and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music at the age of 18. He studied composition with Stanford and the piano with Algernon Ashton and Edward Dannreuther. Though dogged by asthma (which ultimately prevented him from pursuing a professional career as a soloist and was to be the cause of his death, prematurely, at the age of 30) Hurlstone as a student, outshone others such as Vaughan Williams and Holst and established a reputation as one of the RCM’s most dazzling products.
His unpublished Piano Sonata in F minor, written when he was only 18, provides ample evidence of his prodigious ability, his already enviable piano technique as well as his complete mastery of the late romantic instrumental forms. Clearly Hurlstone knew his Schumann, Chopin and Brahms, but already detectable is a flair for form and colourful imagination in terms of handling tonality and harmonic progressions.
In the first movement the sombre material of the first subject gives way to a subtle, lyrical second subject. A Chopinesque poetry imbues the slow movement but it also has a Brahmsian gravity which expresses a turbulent, emotional world well beyond the composer’s years. The darker hues of the first movement return in the Finale but Hurlstone injects a broader cyclic sense to the structure by recalling themes from the preceding movements.
Benjamin Dale began his Piano Sonata in D minor in 1902, at the age of 17. He had already been studying at the Royal Academy of Music from the age of 15, and probably wrote the Sonata under the supervision of his composition teacher, Frederick Corder. The Sonata was symptomatic of a time at the RAM when a whole generation of exceptional composer-pianists, namely Bax, York Bowen, Paul Corder, Montague Philips and Felix Swinstead, were beginning to forge careers for themselves.
Dale’s Sonata, conceived on an epic scale and romantic to the core, is typical of a young ambitious composer. But it was not just the size of the work but the technical difficulty that so impressed the public. Stylistically there is evidence of Brahms and Wagner as well as Rachmaninov and Glazunov. The work nevertheless has an infectious élan and a harmonic fluency full of unusual turns and colourful nuances, and the larger structural scheme is highly unusual. After a free-standing spacious first movement, the next three movements are cleverly subsumed into a series of variations on an original theme – the first four as a slow movement, the next three as a Scherzo, and the last as the work’s Finale. The dedicatee of the Sonata, York Bowen, premiered it in November 1905. The work also won the Hambourg composition prize out of 60 entries. Hambourg played the Sonata in June 1906 at the Queen’s Hall and although to Dale’s fury he only played the Variations, it was rapturously received and it soon became the focus of other professional pianists such as Myra Hess, Irene Scharrer, Vivian Langrish and Benno Moisewitsch. Yortk Bowen also continued to perform the piece until its popularity began to fade in the 1930s, and though some pianists such as Moura Lympany and Frank Merrick revived the work from time to time, its place in the repertoire began to diminish.
The critical plaudits which have greeted Mark Bebbington’s performances and recordings have singled him out as a young British pianist of the rarest refinement and maturity. Increasingly recognised as a champion of British music, Mark has recorded exclusively for SOMM “New Horizons” label to unanimous critical acclaim.
His most recent CD, released in November 2009, is a premiere recording of Bax’s Piano Concertino coupled with Ireland’s Piano concerto and Legend with the Orchestra of the Swan and David Curtis. A disc of British Piano concertos recorded in 2009 with the CBSO and Howard Williams, has attracted high critical acclaim.
In addition to concerto recordings, Mark continues his John Ireland and Frank Bridge solo piano series on SOMM. Four consecutive discs have each earned him 5***** in BBC Music Magazine and International Piano summed up his achievement in October 2009:
“Bebbington’s revivals of British piano music are second to none; he could well be dubbed the concert pianists’ Richard Hickox. Bebbington has almost single-handedly demonstrated that 20th-century British piano scores have an exciting role to play in the concert hall and recording studio.
On This Recording
- Piano Sonata: I. Allegro deciso
- Piano Sonata: II. Slow movement: Theme: Molto adagio
- Piano Sonata: II. Slow movement: Variation 1: Molto adagio
- Piano Sonata: II. Slow movement: Variation 2: Molto adagio
- Piano Sonata: II. Slow movement: Variation 3: Allegretto con grazia
- Piano Sonata: II. Slow movement: Variation 4: Adagio maestoso
- Piano Sonata: III. Scherzo: Variation 5: Presto
- Piano Sonata: III. Scherzo: Variation 6: Tempo di mazurka
- Piano Sonata: III. Scherzo: Variation 6: Prestissimo – Andante – Adagio
- Piano Sonata: IV. Finale: Variation 8: Molto allegro – Lento
- Piano Sonata: I. Allegro
- Piano Sonata: II. Andante ma non troppo
- Piano Sonata: III. Andante
- Piano Sonata: IV. Allegro vivace