Dale: Piano Sonata

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Dale: Piano Sonata in D minor; Prunella; Night Fancies; Bowen: Miniature Suite in C, Op. 14
PERFORMER: Danny Driver (piano)

A piano sonata lasting 42 minutes: at that length, it had better be good. That said, it would be unreasonable to respond to Benjamin Dale’s idiom by getting exasperated with the prolix, Brahms-and-Richard-Strauss-derived anonymity of much English music of this vintage. Dale was only 20 when he completed his Sonata in 1905, and his sizeable three-movement work therefore proclaims serious creative ambition (later, sadly, to be subverted by wartime internment in Germany and subsequent health problems). The Sonata’s opening movement generates and sustains some impressively large musical spans.
If the result lacks individuality, a much more vivid personality emerges in the combined slow movement, Scherzo, Finale, and fine set of variations, with their Grieg-like clarity and modal colouring. While the later Prunella is a lightweight offering, Night Fancies of 1909 features some bell-like sonorities of ear-catching imagination. Another prodigious talent, York Bowen was more contentedly rooted in his era’s German-borrowed tradition, as shown by his three-movement Miniature Suite of 1904, composed when he, too, was only 20. Danny Driver’s stylish and immaculate playing makes an outstanding case for some technically demanding music. One for English music aficionados. Malcolm Hayes