HAROLD TRUSCOTT (1914-1992): Piano Sonatas No. 3 in G Sharp Minor, No. 5 in B Minor “In memoriam Nikolai Medtner”, No. 6 in E, No. 7 in C, No. 9 in E Minor, No. 11 in A Minor, No. 12 in C, No. 13, No. 15 in B Minor and No. 17 in G Minor, Preludes and Fugues No. 1 in E Flat Minor and No. 2 in C.
Catalogue Number: 12V043
Reference: HGTCD 304
Description: Truscott (3CDs) It is a distinct pleasure to welcome these pioneering recordings back to the catalogue. Made in the presence of the composer and partially released in the mid-1980s on LP by Altarus Records, and never reissued, they constitute the most compelling, distinguished and substantial entry to date in Truscott's discography. Truscott may be one of the most significant, and greatest, English composers to have been condemned to undeserved obscurity by circumstances and sheer bad luck, whose reputation is just beginning to achieve the kind of renaissance afforded relatively recently to his contemporaries (and friends) Robert Simpson and Havergal Brian. It would be glib, but not entirely inaccurate, to say that Truscott is to the piano sonata what Simpson is to the symphony and string quartet. Individual and distinctive voices both, you would never mistake the one's music for the other's, but there are striking similarities too, not least the serious, high manner of expression and utterly assured craftsmanship that both brought to their major contribution to their chosen genres. Both remained within the bounds of tonality in their entire output, making a strong and definitive statement that this was by no means a limiting factor to their prodigious imaginative powers. If he were anywhere near as famous as he deserves to be, Truscott might occupy a similar status in British music as Medtner in Russian; an entirely original composer whose idiom might superficially, and incorrectly, be seen as conservative for its time, whose music is primarily for his own instrument, the piano, and which is far from easy for the performer, nor superficially ingratiating to the listener (in the sense of tawdry and flashy virtuosic effect, though virtuosity of a more substantial kind is certainly called for as required by the musical argument) requiring serious attention from both, and amply repaying it to either. Both favour dense, chordal textures in which harmonic relationships and progressions are of paramount importance in driving the music forward. This is perhaps the defining characteristic of Truscott's style; an almost exhausting sequence of modulating key relationships, always theoretically immaculate, and so deftly applied as to constantly surprise and delight the ear. A distinguishing, and endearing, feature of Truscott's writing is that, having provided a few pages of rigorous, intellectually satisfying discourse, any passage of which could be the basis of a whole course in harmonic theory, he suddenly unveils a particularly ravishing harmonic gesture, a moment of textural whimsy, an unexpected rhythmic gear-change, suddenly illuminating the preceding argument from a completely new angle. Powerful, visceral excitement is not lacking either; he knew very well how to bring a work to a rousing, climactic conclusion. The fact that he has not yet achieved the recognition he deserves is due to a combination of circumstances; a major problem was the composer himself - he freely confessed to being easily discouraged, and to preferring, on encountering indifference or rejection, to abandon a work or put it aside. This presumably accounts for the regrettably high proportion of unfinished or abandoned works (about 30%, including the majority of his orchestral compositions) among his output, not to mention the fact that the full extent of his compositional activity was unknown prior to diligent resarch by his musical executor (who wrote the notes for this release) after the composer's death. There was not a trace of self-promotion about Truscott; this apparent lack of self-confidence vis-a-vis performers and the musical establishment sits strangely at odds with the fact that he clearly had no doubts about his music's intrinsic quality, and points to some deep-seated psychological insecurities, likely the result of his extremely unpromising early environment. Sonata No.3 (1947) is on a large scale, with a first movement in sonata form, a striking slow movement described by the composer as "a thing of shadows with an occasional blaze", and a two-part finale the first section of which is of pastoral character, followed by a masterly set of variations whose progression of keys reminds one of Nielsen or Simpson, and a final fugue. The Fifth Sonata was started in 1951 in response to Medtner's death, but put aside for some years before being completed quite rapidly in 1955. It is a big-boned, powerful work in four movements, beginning with a movement in extended sonata form, with six subjects fully and masterfully developed, an ingenious recapitulation and a thunderous conclusion. The second movement is a rather somber scherzo and trio based on variations of a marching ostinato rhythm. There follows a marvellously expressive passacaglia slow movement, and a suitably massive finale, reintroducing material from the first movement. The very large (40 minutes) Sixth, in four movements, cost its composer no small effort. Its movements were written out of sequence, with some material dating back to discarded works from the late 1940s, and yet it possesses a remarkably cogent sense of continuity perhaps not unrelated to its Beethovenian procedures (Truscott was a noted, published authority on Beethoven’s music). Two large movements are followed by a shorter scherzo and a very substantial finale (cf. the 'Eroica'). The Seventh was written immediately after, and provides an interesting contrast to the more conventionally structured works, four-movement works that preceded it; a tautly constructed single span, with multiple themes; this is a good example of the versatility of Truscott's idiom, as the argument is thoroughly worked out in a structured, cogent whole, and the work feels dramatically foreshortened and teeming with inter-related events as a result. The Ninth is an exceptionally attractive work, and may well be destined to become a favorite of many listeners. Truscott seems to have thought highly of it, as he performed it himself in 1961. Its combination of lyricism, virtuosity and playfulness - the scherzo contains a memorable phrase aptly described by the composer as 'labouring clumsily to fly through the air' and quicksilver changes of tonality and expression -- makes this one of the composer’s most instantly appealing works. Sonata No.11 is in two movements, the first 'quiet and thoughtful' acting as an introduction to the main movement, divided into two sections which approximate a volatile development of a first theme, then after an abrupt transition, a slow movement. No.12 is a brief, four-movement piece, endearingly described by the composer in a manner reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' "Doesn’t it ever occur to people that a chap might just want to write a piece of music?", as follows: "In direct contrast to so much music written since 1945, No. 12 in C major is a genial work. It should not be, of course; if not avant garde, it should at least be fiery, or sombre, or gloomy, or hurling sticks of bombs at the cowed heads of its audience. It is none of these things; it is unrepentantly genial’. The Thirteenth is distinguished by a remarkable slow movement "... very slow indeed ... in two main parts and a brief coda ... ending on a chord on C sharp minor. Throughout the music should sound withdrawn and be as nearly toneless as possible." Truscott was never given to programmatic descriptions of his music, but this static, haunting movement is unique in his output and breathtakingly effective, even though we will never know what it "means". Sonata No. 15 (1976-71) is in three movements, and represents the most masterly aspects of Truscott's highly inventive and original use of classical tonality. An ingenious sonata-form first movement is followed by a scherzo, and a substantial, wide-ranging finale. Truscott’s long-time close friend and colleague, Robert Simpson (an amateur astronomer in his spare time between being one of Britain's greatest 20th century symphonists) called the 17th Sonata a ‘black dwarf’, referring to its extreme concision and concentration of form - the work lasts a mere, but eventful, five minutes. 3 CDs. Peter Jacobs (piano). Original 1984-85 Altarus LP releases.