The ever-enterprising Toccata Classics label launches potentially one of its most important projects with this first volume devoted to the piano music of Harold Truscott (1914-92). Although he wrote (not necessarily finishing) pieces in almost all major instrumental genres, the 22 Piano Sonatas (three of them incomplete) stand at the centre of Truscott’s output – indicative of a composer who expressed himself naturally in this medium, though there is nothing derivative or facile in his approach. Around half of these were recorded by Peter Jacobs for Altarus in the 1980s, but this new series by Ian Hobson looks to be comprehensive in including sundry works as round out the extent of Truscott’s legacy for piano – one that ranges from the expansiveness of his early Sonatas to the increasingly gnomic compression of the pieces which came later in his career.
Of the non-Sonatas, the Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme (1967) is a fine example of Truscott’s mature idiom, its austere yet motivically fecund theme preceding 20 variations that fall into four larger groups which between them resemble a Classical sonata design, then a fugue that takes this theme through a varied yet focussed evolution to its defiant apotheosis. By contrast, the Suite in G (1966) is among the composer’s most approachable works. This is the arrangement of an orchestral piece Truscott had just written for a youth orchestra in the Huddersfield area (at whose polytechnic he taught until retirement in 1979); progressing from a martial introduction, via a limpid ‘Fughetta’ and soulful Andante, to a resolute Allegro such as rounds off this attractive though not wholly representative introduction to his music.
Something that is undoubtedly not the case with the Seventh Sonata (1956) – as compact in form as it is affirmative in mood; its one-movement design taking in robustly contrasted thematic groups as undergo a tensile development prior to a subtly varied reprise and a coda the more decisive for its brevity. Appreciably different is the Fifth Sonata, completed in 1955 after a four-year gestation and whose dedication “in memoriam Nikolai Medtner” indicates its seriousness of purpose. Its four movements comprise a lengthy opening Moderato whose handling of sonata principles is highly unpredictable, an Allegretto whose intermezzo traits look back to Brahms and Schumann, then a calm yet harmonically questing Passacaglia which leads directly into the Finale – its synthesis of sonata and variation facets continuing up to a forceful peroration.
Throughout the programme, Ian Hobson plays with a combination of accuracy and intensity ideal for this music. The only proviso might be that such commitment arguably excludes any possibility of light or shade: inherently serious in his aesthetic as Truscott was, there is also an animation and sense of fantasy as leaven any tendency to the unrelieved earnestness that seems uppermost in these performances. This is not necessarily a failing, but something that might be worth reflecting on near the outset of so extensive a project. Otherwise, the sound has commanding presence and clarity, while Guy Rickards’s annotations are informative if a little convoluted in their descriptive analysis. Truscott has a notable place in mid-twentieth-century British music, and this first volume of his piano music could not be more welcome.