John White: Piano Sonatas Vol I (Adventures At The Keyboard)


Double CD album, featuring piano music by British composer, John White, performed by Jonathan Powell.

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About this release

“I write a lot for piano for two main reasons. Firstly, being a pianist allows me to be in touch with a rich and exciting repertoire. This gives me a great variety of role models in terms of vocabulary and gesture with which to formulate and ‘clothe’ the ideas which come to me and seem to need expression. Secondly, being an idealistic rather than a ‘career’ composer, I find the piano a handy vehicle for the uttering (‘Outering’) of compositional thought. That is, the inspiration goes directly into a performable medium without the salesmanship required for getting ensemble pieces played.”

John White

Commissioned Programme Note

If any composer from the last 100 years can be said to have redefined the piano sonata, that composer is John White. A unique figure in British music, his vast compositional output documents a long involvement with the worlds of dance, theatre, experimentalism and electronica as well as with that of the concert hall. His 173 piano sonatas cover a 55-year period from no. 1 (1956) to the present day and since no. 21, have tended to be single movement works of a few minutes duration. In contrast to other areas of his output, they can be regarded as “semi-private” pieces – entries in a diary rather than public statements perhaps. If in later years they became more linked with the example of Scarlatti, White’s early approach to the sonata was to seek alternatives to, or subversions of, the multi-movement genre with all its structural implications before abandoning the principle altogether. And to find ways of musical continuity without reliance on most of the traditional, particularly developmental formal devices whilst employing a musical vocabulary which, on the surface,  often seemed familiar. Nevertheless, beneath the surface is a world of subversion, steeped in historical reference and this has tended to be present in most of the sonatas (apart from those of 1969), whatever the date of composition. Within these notes there are extensive quotations from White’s own comments on individual sonatas and it will be immediately apparent that whereas most other composers are anxious to cover their traces, White encourages us to make connections with other music for reasons which have little to do with conventional “influence” and nothing to do with pastiche or a retrogressive artistic stance. Read more

About the artists

Jonathan Powell

Jonathan PowellHaving concentrated on composition during the 1990s, Jonathan Powell established an international career as a soloist having studied with Sulamita Aronovsky and Denis Matthews. Over the last decade, he has given solo recitals in the Rachmaninoff Hall of the MGK and been on a six-concert US tour. Other European appearances include Musica Sacra in Maastricht, the series Fundación BBVA in Bilbao, Musica Nova in Helsinki, two solo recitals at the Festival Radio France Montpellier, Borealis Festival in Bergen, the Raritäten der Klaviermusik am Schloss vor Husum, Vredenburg Muziekcentrum in Utrecht, and the Jewish Museum and Altes Rathaus in Vienna.

His recent concerto appearances include Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2 (Slovak Philarmonic), Liszt’s Malédiction (in Kiev), Finnissy’s Piano Concerto No.2 (Moscow) and Sorensen’s Piano Concerto No.2 (with the Prague Philarmonia), Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3 and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 (provincial Ukraine). In recent years, he has broadcast for Radio France, Radio Netherlands, Radio Deutschland Kultur, the BBC and Czech Radio.

He is a passionate advocate of music from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially from Russia and eastern Europe, but is also a proponent of contemporary music, having premièred works by Hugues Dufourt, Claudio Ambrosini, Michael Finnissy and others. His repertoire also includes many of the staples of the 19th century (Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann etc). In 2009 he gave the first of many performances of the cycle of Scriabin’s 10 sonatas in single concerts. During 2013 he toured Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus and Albeniz’ Iberia, while in 2015 he gave numerous performances of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Reger’s Bach Variations.

Recent activities include a European tour featuring the complete piano works of Xenakis and, in 2017, Liszt’s Sonata, Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke and several performances of Sorabji’s Opus clavicembalisticum. In 2018 he gave six performances of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. He is a featured artist at the Jacqueline du Pré hall in Oxford, giving three annual concerts, as well as teaching and leading workshops for students. He has also appeared at the Indian Summer in Levoča Festival (Slovakia) every year since its inception in 2007, as recitalist, chamber musician, and soloist with orchestra. The first three months of the 2019—20 season will see him perform in the Netherlands, Slovakia, Ukraine, Paris, UK, Gdańsk, Prague, and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.

Masterclasses, lecture-recitals and coaching have recently taken Powell to the Janáček Academy (Brno), Oxford University, the Guildhall School and Music and Drama (London), the Royal Academy of Music (London), Akademie für Tonkunst (Darmstadt), Cornish College of Arts (Seattle), and Det Jyske Musikkonservatorium (Denmark). His articles on many aspects of Russian music appear in the New Grove Dictionary of Music. His compositions have been performed by the Arditti Quartet, the London Sinfonietta and Nicolas Hodges. He lives in southern Poland.

  • Sonata No. 20 (1963) - John White
  • Sonata No. 30 (1966) - John White
  • Sonata No. 14 (1960) - John White
  • Sonata No. 12 (1960) - John White
  • Sonata No. 13 (1960) - John White
  • Sonata No. 4 (1959) - John White
  • Sonata No. 7 (1960) - John White
  • Sonata No. 19 (1963) - John White
  • Sonata No. 34 (1967) - John White
  • Sonata No. 28 (1966) - John White
  • Sonata No. 2 (1957) - John White
  • Sonata No. 9 (1960) - John White
  • Sonata No. 18 (1963) i. Calmo, ma con moto - John White
  • Sonata No. 18 (1963) ii. Lento - John White
  • Sonata No. 18 (1963) iii. - John White
  • Sonata No. 25 (1965) - John White
  • Sonata No. 31 (1967) - John White
  • Sonata No. 11 (1960) i. - John White
  • Sonata No. 11 (1960) ii. Molto vivace - John White
  • Sonata No. 11 (1960) iii. Allegretto piacevole - John White
  • Sonata No. 11 (1960) iv. Marcia (poco lento) - John White
  • Sonata No. 4 (1965) - John White
  • Sonata No. 23 (1965) - John White
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Catalogue number: CR006

Piano Jonathan Powell

CD Cover Image Kyle Kruchok
Engineering John Lely, Adaq Khan
Mastering Adaq Khan
Producer Jonathan Powell
Creative Director John Bevan
Executive Producer Adrian Green

Recorded 28, 29, 30 October, 2006
Venue The Old Granary Studio, Priory Farm, Norfolk
Total Duration 139 mins

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