WORKS: A Starlit Dome; Piano Sonata. Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2
PERFORMER: Raymond Clarke (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ATH CD 15
At 35, John Pickard is making a name for himself – unusually – in the traditional forms of symphony and string quartet, combining the propulsive power of Robert Simpson (an early mentor) with a quite distinct sensibility. His bravura Piano Sonata, in two large, dynamic movements, was written at the age of 23 in a spirit of protest against its time and place – Britain in the Thatcher years – but its palpable anger takes the form of passionate constructive power, not agitprop. The furious toccata-like conclusion is quite an experience, especially played as well as here. The recent A Starlit Dome, a kind of ‘cosmic nocturne’, active rather than passive in its contemplation of the heavens, hardly suggests any relaxation, but is more serenely lyrical in effect.
Raymond Clarke, for whom the Sonata was composed, plays both these taxing and profoundly thought pieces with dedication and virtuosic flair, and couples them with the two admirable sonatas of Pickard’s teacher, William Mathias. If No. 1 (1963) is occasionally too eclectic to be truly personal (the opening gesture is surely influenced by Tippett’s Second Sonata of the previous year), the single-movement No. 2 (1969) is much more creative in its reworking of Lisztian models and Messiaen-like harmonies. First-rate recording: an excellent disc of contemporary British piano music. Calum MacDonald