Bax: Piano Sonata No. 1; Bridge: Three Sketches for Piano; Britten: Holiday Diary; Ireland: Ballade of London Nights; Tippett: Piano Sonata No. 1
Franziska Lee (piano)
Capriccio C3010 75:49 mins
Having focused her attention on early 20th-century French composers for her debut Capriccio recording, Franziska Lee looks across the channel for this British programme of works from a similar era. The conductor Edward Gardner has described Michael Tippett’s music as ‘exasperating to bring to performance – it is impractically written, often on the edge of possibility’. Although Tippett’s Sonata No. 1 was composed during the early part of his career (and revised in 1942), it foreshadows the later abstraction heard in works such as The Midsummer Marriage (the mid-part of the Allegro, for instance). Franziska Lee’s sharply focused Presto is poised and pointillistic; the ‘Rondo’ allows further space for her to demonstrate virtuosity.
I must take issue with the recording title: with the exception of Ireland’s slender Ballade of London Nights, most of the composers and featured works have deeper connections with other parts of the country. Although Britten was working in London (something he avoided in later life) around the time of Holiday Diary, as the movement titles suggest, this is not a city evocation. The dreamy, cresting ‘Sailing’ and pianissimo ‘Night’ have scene-setting qualities of Schubert. Lee’s dynamic variations are supremely sensitive – so much that I had to adjust the volume.
Bax’s single-movement sonata eschews traditional Italian terms for the English direction ‘not too fast and very decisive in rhythm’. Lee is surefooted along Bax’s sometimes meandering trails, with carefully delineated voicing.