Ferguson – Piano Sonata in F minor

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ferguson
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 8; Discovery, Op. 13; Five Bagatelles, Op. 9; Partita for Two Pianos, Op. 5b
PERFORMER: Raphael Terroni, Vadim Peaceman (piano), Phillida Bannister (contralto)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572289

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The published works of Ulster’s Howard Ferguson number only 19; from 1959, aged 51, he had said all he wanted to say and apparently stopped writing altogether. The music itself, too, is the work of a composer who understood that less is more.

The Piano Sonata, composed in response to the death of his mentor, the pianist Harold Samuel, is a substantial three-movement statement – tautly and superbly written, not at all limited by its fairly conservative not-quite-Prokofiev idiom, and conveying real depth of feeling.

The song-cycle Discovery impresses even more: its five Denton Welch settings need less than eight minutes to create a complete emotional world of Britten-like precision and memorability. While the piano Bagatelles are less striking, the earlier Partita for two pianos searches out some inventive possibilities in its choice of dance-forms. 

Raphael Terroni’s playing is outstanding throughout, while Phillida Bannister’s beautifully focused contralto voice and expressive artistry in Discovery are world-class.

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Playing Baroque dotted rhythms accurately together on two pianos is near-impossible; that apart, Terroni’s and Peaceman’s performance of the Partita does more than fair justice to the music’s strength. Naxos supplies no texts of the songs. Malcolm Hayes