CR051 Cover

John White: Piano Sonatas Volume II, Later Sonatas (CR051)

Review by Rob Haskins, American Record Guide

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A small disclaimer: when I studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1985– 86), my friend Scott Pender was studying at Leicester Polytechnic; through him I met Gavin Bryars, John White, and other composers active in the London experimental school of the 1970s. This group of composers was and is quite eclectic—interested in minimalism, sometimes intensely so, but also interested in playful subversion of all kinds of expectations in music. Although I haven’t talked to John White since then, I think of him often and fondly. I knew that he had written an extraordinary number of piano sonatas, but I don’t believe I’d heard any of them. Still, I knew enough about his music to know what they’d be like. Some critics might disparagingly refer to them as pastiche works; I would respond that the various layers of reference to other music and the way he includes them in his own style makes them much more complex. Most of them are one movement and on the shorter side (3 to 4 minutes, some even shorter). They could almost be taken as salon pieces, except they’re much more beautiful and much more interesting. John’s own description of some of the sonatas gives a sense of what one might expect. For Sonata 139: “A modest waltz tribute to Tchaikovsky that includes para–quotes from the ‘Valse des fleurs’ from Casse–Noisette and the ‘Rose Adagio’ from Sleeping Beauty. And for Sonata 105: “Comments obliquely but with enthusiasm on Busoni’s Piano Concerto and certain moments in the work of George Gershwin.” These, then, are light pieces the way Haydn is: humor leavened by heart and sophistication. All usually suggest tonality in varying degrees and are often technically challenging (White is a fine pianist); Jonathan Powell plays them very well. We didn’t review Volume 1, nor does it seem to be available in the US, but I bought a copy from a British seller and can’t wait to hear it.

Rob Haskins, American Record Guide, 15 September, 2020

Further information

American Record Guide

American Record Guide

Founded in 1935, American Record Guide is America’s oldest classical music review magazine. In 1992 it absorbed the editorial side of Musical America, so it also covers important concerts, orchestras, and musicians on the American scene.

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