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For modern piano compositions to thrive, gifted and dedicated keyboard artists are needed to love and perform them. This is the message of a 2001 study by Lisa Hardy, a student of Peter Dickinson who teaches in the North East of England, now available in paperback with an updated discography. London-born composer Benjamin Dale (1885-1943) wrote his massive, attractively energetic Piano Sonata in D minor from 1902 to 1905, and despite its challenges, it was championed by such noted pianists as Myra Hess, Benno Moiseiwitsch and Moura Lympany. But it eventually fell into obscurity, and only in the past 20 years have such performers as Peter Jacobs, Mark Bebbington and Danny Driver recorded it anew . Michael Tippett’s vigorously quirky First Sonata has deservedly inspired recordings by John Ogden, Paul Crossley, Murray Perahia, Peter Donohoe and Steven Osborne. Yet might other piano works have received more dutiful attention than they deserve? Frank Bridge’s broodingly resentful-sounding sonata has been recorded by eight pianists since 1974, but at least one of Hardy’s interviewees, composer Howard Ferguson, notes, ‘I don’t particularly like the Bridge [Sonata]’, pointing out how it was rejected by its intended dedicatee, Harold Samuel, and that when the doughty Myra Hess performed it overseas, ‘she said that she lost more of her American friends by playing it than anything else!’ The British Piano Sonata, 1870-1945 implies that communicative charm and delight are essential for sonatas to win lasting posterity, not just determined good intentions to promote British composers.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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