HAROLD TRUSCOTT (1914-1992): Piano Music, Vol. 1 - Sonatas No. 5 in B Minor "In memoriam Nikolai Medtner", RC62, and No. 7 in C RC65, Suite in G, RC95a, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme, RC100.
Catalogue Number: 01Q048
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0252
Description: Harold Truscott may be one of the most significant, and greatest, English composers to have been condemned to undeserved obscurity by circumstances and sheer bad luck, whose reputation has yet to achieve the kind of renaissance afforded relatively recently to his contemporaries (and friends) Robert Simpson and Havergal Brian. It would be glib, but not entirely inaccurate, to say that Truscott is to the piano sonata what Simpson is to the symphony and string quartet. Individual and distinctive voices both, you would never mistake one's music for the other's, but there are striking similarities too, not least the serious, high manner of expression and utterly assured craftsmanship that both brought to their major contribution to their chosen genres. Both remained within the bounds of tonality in their entire output, making a strong and definitive statement that this was by no means a limiting factor to their prodigious imaginative powers. If he were anywhere near as famous as he deserves to be, Truscott might occupy a similar status in British music as Medtner in Russian; an entirely original composer whose idiom might superficially, and incorrectly, be seen as conservative for its time, whose music is primarily for his own instrument, the piano, and which is far from easy for the performer, nor superficially ingratiating to the listener (in the sense of tawdry and flashy virtuosic effect, though virtuosity of a more substantial kind is certainly called for as required by the musical argument) requiring serious attention from both, and amply repaying it to either. Both favour dense, chordal textures in which harmonic relationships and progressions are of paramount importance in driving the music forward. This is perhaps the defining characteristic of Truscott's style; an almost exhausting sequence of modulating key relationships, always theoretically immaculate, and so deftly applied as to constantly surprise and delight the ear. A distinguishing, and endearing, feature of Truscott's writing is that, having provided a few pages of rigorous, intellectually satisfying discourse, any passage of which could be the basis of a whole course in harmonic theory, he suddenly unveils a particularly ravishing harmonic gesture, a moment of textural whimsy, an unexpected rhythmic gear-change, suddenly illuminating the preceding argument from a completely new angle. Powerful, visceral excitement is not lacking either; both sonatas on this disc storm to a massive, decisive conclusion. The fact that he has not yet achieved the recognition he deserves is due to a combination of circumstances; there have been some promising false starts - three superb LPs by the distinguished British pianist Peter Jacobs, sadly not so far released on CD, a tiny handful of radio broadcasts; an orchestral CD, no longer available, in the 1990s; but this series will be the first attempt at a comprehensive survey of the most significant aspect of his output. Another major problem was the composer himself; he freely confessed to being easily discouraged, and preferring, on encountering indifference or rejection, to abandon a work or put it aside; this presumably accounts for the regrettably high proportion of unfinished or abandoned works (including the majority of his orchestral compositions) among his output, not to mention the fact that the full extent of his compositional activity was unknown prior to diligent resarch by his musical executor (who wrote the notes for this release) after the composer's death. There was not a trace of self-promotion about Truscott; this apparent lack of self-confidence vis-a-vis performers and the musical establishment sits strangely at odds with the fact that he clearly had no doubts about his music's intrinsic quality, and points to some deep-seated psychological insecurities, likely the result of his extremely unpromising early environment. The Fifth Sonata was started in 1951 in response to Medtner's death, but put aside for some years before being completed quite rapidly in 1955. It is a big-boned, powerful work in four movements, beginning with a movement in extended sonata form, with six subjects fully and masterfully developed, an ingenious recapitulation and a thunderous conclusion. The second movement is a rather somber scherzo and trio based on variations of a marching ostinato rhythm. There follows a marvellously expressive passacaglia slow movement, and a suitably massive finale, reintroducing material from the first movement. The Seventh was written soon after, following another large four-movement sonata, and provides an interesting contrast to these more conventionally structured works; a tautly constructed single span, with multiple themes; this is a good example of the versatility of Truscott's idiom, as the argument is thoroughly worked out in a structured, cogent whole, and the work feels dramatically foreshortened and teeming with inter-related events as a result. The suite comprises four movements, comparatively straightforward in form, arranged by the composer from its orchestral original as a result of yet another of the disappointments that dogged his career. Unsurprisingly, the economical little theme, its twenty closely related but texturally widely divergent variations, and substantial fugal finale, feel like a structured large-scale musical statement with a clear sense of direction. Ian Hobson (piano).