Ives/Sessions/Griffes

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COMPOSERS: Ives/Sessions/Griffes
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata
PERFORMER: Peter Lawson (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: VC 7 59316 2 DDD
Ever since Beethoven took the piano sonata to an exalted level, composers have been daunted by the prospect of following his example. I can, however, think of one exception, the English composer John White, who has felt relaxed enough about it to produce well over a hundred sonatas. Peter Lawson’s excellent disc collects three powerful works each exploring its own world, and you can’t very comfortably listen to one immediately after the other. Ives’s Sonata No. 1 is just as characteristic as his notorious Concord Sonata, but a lot easier to take in, despite its proliferating form of five movements and sub-sections. The Griffes was the last major piano work this short-lived composer wrote before dying in 1920; it’s nearly as dissonant as Ives but, whereas Ives was homespun and hairy, Griffes was self-consciously exotic and smooth.

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Sessions is one of the major 20th-century American heavyweights to remain relatively unknown in Britain. His rather earnest Second Sonata of 1946 is less exciting than his mean, lean Third, which is charged with tightly controlled hysteria. Alas, the tinny, distant recording on Naboré’s disc puts it right out of court, though the Cage pieces for prepared piano sound, by contrast, alarmingly close. Adrian Jack