Nocturne and Menuet, Op.39
Piano Sonata No.8 in F, Op.174
Vier Bagatellen, Op.79
Piano Sonata No.4 in D minor, Op.164
Daniel Grimwood (piano)
Recorded 2 & 3 February 2008 in Old Granary Studio, Beccles, Suffolk
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2010
CD No: TOCCATA CLASSICS
Duration: 74 minutes
Let’s be honest, Algernon Ashton doesn’t get too many mentions, even in footnotes. Durham-born Ashton (1859-1937), he died in London, is given a splendid biography, and the music that is recorded here an exhaustive analysis, by Malcolm MacDonald in the generous booklet note.
With dedicated and adroit performances by Daniel Grimwood, Algernon Ashton’s music lives again, and does so rather wonderfully. The opening Nocturne begins like Chopin and morphs into Brahms; its companion Menuet is rather pretty, and differently Classical. The opening of Piano Sonata No.8 is amiable, the ideas clear-cut, the writing for piano, however many notes, is articulate, the music flows, lyrically, engagingly and free-spiritedly, Schumannesque in some respects, with a shapely structure. Ashton has in his gift absorbing slow music and Baroque-like faster music – as the middle movements of the Eighth Sonata demonstrate (which dates from 1926, has the high opus number of 174, and appears to be his last work). Not that it seems as recently composed as that, and sometimes seems a little on the pastiche side; fleetingly the finale suggested Domenico Scarlatti’s music; yet one is also aware of much harmonic depth and development.
The Four Bagatelles (published 1892 in Leipzig) are each charming, and the most English-sounding pieces here, somewhat anticipating the miniatures of Cyril Scott and John Ireland. The Fourth Sonata, like the Eighth, can seem disconcertingly lightweight in relation to the momentous title of Sonata; in the first movement there is though some rustling of feathers, and some rather Schubertian expression in the slow movement. Yet Ashton avoids mimicking, and it’s difficult to work out if he is being nostalgic or that music simply poured from him in an ‘accepted’ manner but with enough individuality to make his pieces rather fascinating. The third movement ‘Intermezzo’ is nakedly Brahmsian, and finely honed as such, and the lengthy finale (at 9 minutes as long as the opening movement) is weighty and stays powerfully on course to a resolute conclusion.
The recorded sound is decent enough, even if the piano (a somewhat colourless instrument) is too closely captured with little ambience, a narrow dynamic range, and rather pings in the treble; no matter, this music is too rare, too interesting, and too well performed for such matters to get in the way of something unexpected (not surprisingly these pieces are all recorded for the first time, if not the first versions to be issued!); there may be no masterpieces here but this is diverting music that deserves its chance with the rest. And this is but Volume One!