WILLIAM BLAND (b.1947): Piano Sonatas No. 17 in A Minor and No. 18 in G Minor.
Catalogue Number: 07X049
Description: Many composers have written cycles of short works - preludes and the like - in all the keys; Bland has gone somewhat further in penning a series of 24 full-scale piano sonatas. Bland is an immensely versatile and inventive composer, apparently encyclopædically knowledgeable of the vast piano repertory, who studied with an impressive roster of composition teachers. Necessarily, in view of their intent, these works are tonal, most frequently explicitly so in a Romantic sense, which is the idiom in which the composer seems most at ease, though there is plenty of 20th century harmonic ambiguity, chromaticism which can approach atonality, and even occasional clusters. A stylistic magpie, the composer draws his influences from all over the place, sometimes juxtaposing contrasting styles with, it has to be said, effortless seamlessness, but to occasionally bewildering effect; a considerable pianist himself (the only previous recordings of his works were his own - 03I094), he writes for the instrument with complete assurance and full exploitation of its technical and expressive capabilities. These two large, four-movement specimens were written in 2007 and 2010 respectively, and both are predominantly Romantic in harmony and expression, especially the full-blooded 18th, with its first movement indebted to Rachmaninov and Chopin, and a beautiful intermezzo like a Romantic transcription of Jean-Philippe Rameau‘s Tristes Apprêts, Pâles Flambeaux from the opera Castor et Pollux, which also appears as an interlude in the swirling perpetuum mobile "scherzo" of the 17th. One of the highlights of the disc is the remarkable, cumulatively grand and monumental Chaconne in the 18th Sonata, another is the aforementioned scherzo (an episode of which makes one wonder whether the composer has been listening to some Sorabji; elsewhere his familiarity with Busoni, Allan, Liszt, Bach, Beethoven, but also with less obvious keyboard idioms, is very apparent). "Non-classical" elements make cameos in some of his sonatas, but the only example of that here is what sounds as though it might be a bass line to a rock anthem in one section of the "capricious and forceful" opening movement of No.17. Immensely satisfying and essential for pianophiles; the promise of what is to come in future releases (please!) is tantalizing.