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Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Howard Ferguson famously gave up writing music when fashion turned against what he wanted to write. Other composers might have trimmed their style to match the mores of the times; not Ferguson. His catalogue is comparatively small and, as far as I can see, it has all been recorded. While his name was familiar as the pianist on those Finzi song LPs…and as the orchestrator of the Finzi Interlude…his compositions are of commanding substance. It is better than good to see them being taken up by Raphael Terroni and his two collaborators. Terroni has never been fretful about tackling the periphery of the repertoire. His 1980s recording of the Cyril Scott Third Piano Sonata is an early example (BMS cassette—analogue—sadly never transferred). More recently he has recorded the two Cooke piano sonatas for Dutton. The Ferguson Sonata straddled the outbreak of World War II. Its three movements are not short on drama. This is the drama of craggy Lisztian heights but Terroni also stays in touch with the Chopin-style filigree. The reflective moments glow with a Finzian quality I had never heard in this work before. I hope perhaps that one day Terroni will be able to record the Finzi Eclogue and also the Grand Fantasia and Toccata so sensationally despatched by Leon McCawley at the 2009 Proms.

The poetry of Denton Welch (1915–48) is set by Ferguson in the compact five song cycle Discovery which was also recorded by Kathleen Ferrier. The often dark twist of the words is reflected in songs which have little surface glamour. You need to be in the right mood. The most moving is Babylon which is in the spirit of Holst’s Betelgeuse and Finzi’s Stars over Yell and Jane Allen reminded me of Moeran’s Shakespeare Songs and Foulds’ Phantom Horseman.

The Five Bagatelles were written from the five note cells provided by the South African composer Arnold Van Wyck whose own Symphony and Saudades for violin and orchestra need attention in the studio. These pieces were taken up, as was the Sonata, by Myra Hess and she made the first recording of the Bagatelles which was issued on 78. They are varied and entertaining little character slivers. I liked the dark waters frequented by the Molto moderato—Chopin refracted through an ominous 20th century glass.

Vadim Peaceman joins Terroni for the 1935–36 Partita which Ferguson wrote simultaneously in two piano and orchestral versions. The four movements have the rhetorical grandeur we find at the start of the Piano Sonata, a touch of ‘baroquerie’ and a romantic almost Hollywood (psychological Rozsa) subtext in the artfully stumbling Andante. The crystalline gambolling finale touches more on Rachmaninov than on the Baroque. The music is superbly turned and clipped by the two pianists and given real joie de vivre—a feel-good finale.

This is a most attractive recital with Discovery lending contrast.

The helpfully deepened notes are by Richard Whitehouse.

How about an orchestral collection please Naxos with the wonderful jobbery that is the snappily Waltonian Overture for an Occasion and the Two Ballads and Four Diversions on Ulster Airs. Naxos have already given us the Piano Concerto (review). Then again there are the two grand choral-orchestral works A Dream of the Rood and Amore Langueo.



Malcolm Hayes
BBC Music Magazine, August 2010

Raphael Terroni’s playing is outstanding throughout, while Phillida Bannister’s beautifully focused contralto voice and expressive artistry in Discovery are world-class.



Walter Simmons
Fanfare, July 2010

Howard Ferguson (1908–99) was an English composer and musicologist, born in Ireland. Though he lived a long life, his composing career was rather brief, lasting less than 30 years, and resulting in only about 20 works. My prior exposure to his music was limited to an excellent early violin sonata recorded by Jascha Heifetz. Ferguson was a contemporary and close friend of Gerald Finzi. But while Finzi’s music was identifiably English to the bone, clearly descended from the lineage of Edward Elgar, Ferguson’s inhabits a more international neoromanticism.

The most imposing of the four works presented here is the Piano Sonata in F Minor, completed in 1940, and written in response to the sudden death of Ferguson’s teacher and mentor, Harold Samuel. Introduced by Myra Hess, it is a dramatic and turbulent work, its opening movement setting much the same tone of emotional duress as, say, the opening of the Barber sonata, not to mention many lesser-known American neoromantic piano sonatas of the sturm und drang variety. Its second movement draws upon a poignant lyricism reminiscent of Finzi, although it meanders a bit as it develops. The finale returns to the discontent of the opening, concluding without a sense of emotional resolution. Like all the music offered here, the sonata is a solid, sincere effort, with potent ideas…Pianist Raphael Terroni makes a strong case for the work, as he does for each of the pieces represented here.

The other large-scale work is the Partita for Two Pianos, completed in 1936. This is a romantic expansion of the Baroque suite concept, blended with the concept of a four-movement sonata. For example, the first movement is both a French overture and a sonata-allegro movement. The slow movement, in essence a sarabande, projects a lovely lyricism. Again this is a competently wrought work of authentic musical sensibility…Ferguson’s Five Bagatelles is somewhat more substantial than the title may imply. This group of pieces from 1944 was also championed by Myra Hess. The opening section is quite compelling—surprisingly so. The four subsequent pieces are gracious morsels, but again there is excessive reliance on routine figurations.

Discovery is Ferguson’s only song cycle, a group of five short settings of poetry by the short-lived writer and painter Denton Welch. Composed in 1951 for contralto and piano, the cycle was championed by Kathleen Ferrier. Again the music is sincerely expressive…I would recommend it to those with a comprehensive interest in English music of the 20th century.



Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, July 2010

First-class performances of durable repertoire that is worth hearing…a supremely enjoyable anthology overall, and not to be missed at Naxos price.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Born in Belfast in 1908, Howard Ferguson has enjoyed little international recognition, though his music was, with every justification, highly regarded by his professional contemporaries. A pupil of Vaughan Williams as a composer and Malcolm Sargent as a conductor, his legacy is no more than nineteen published works, deciding at the age of fifty-one that he had said all that he wanted. The present disc covers much of his career and shows him in the mainstream of British music from around the mid-part of the 20th century. The earliest is the Partita for Two Pianos completed in 1936, a substantial score that also exists in an orchestral version, and it is that texture the two pianos seem to be creating. It is in the style of a French Overture that is serious in the opening, before passing through a series of dance-like movements. It is a perfectly crafted score, a description you could equally apply to the 1940 Piano Sonata. It does not often smile, but you may need to give it a little time to reveal itself to you. The Five Bagatelles from 1944 are more outgoing, never reflecting the mood of war-torn Britain, and last for little more than seven minutes, each of the linked movements being short. Discovery, for contralto and piano, was to become one of Ferguson’s best-known pieces, the great contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, taking it into her repertoire and recording it shortly before her death. Phillida Bannister makes out a good case for the songs, with the pianist, Raphael Terroni, proving a worthy champion throughout. The admirable Vadim Peaceman joins in the difficulties of the taxing Partita, the two pianos being perfectly balanced, and throughout you could not improve on the recorded sound quality.






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10:50:42 AM, 11 July 2014
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