Romantically affluent, poundingly sonorous and rich in pathos

Romantically affluent, poundingly sonorous and rich in pathos

MusicWeb International, Rob Barnett

Sterndale Bennett and Schumann
Hiroaki Takenouchi

William Sterndale Bennett Piano Sonata, Op. 13 (1837)

Last year (2016) saw Sterndale Bennett’s centenary. Hiroaki Takenouchi has played a significant role in bringing this composer’s Romantic-era music further out into the sunshine. This recording was made as part of that effort. In addition, he has made studio recordings of some WSB miniatures for the BBC and these were heard as part of Donald MacLeod’s Composer of the Week series on Radio 3 in April 2017: Butterfly, Op 33 No 5, Études Nos. 2 and 6, Op 11, February, WoO 56 and Two Characteristic Studies, Op 29. He has done a similar service on radio for the piano music of A.C. Mackenzie.

Work on the writing of Sterndale Bennett’s op. 13 Piano Sonata took place in London. It was completed in Leipzig where the young composer stayed for more than seven months. These years saw a whirl of activity in which Mendelssohn took up the English composer’s cause. It was Mendelssohn who conducted the premiere of WSB’s first piano concerto at the Gewandhaus. The op. 13 Sonata is dedicated to the German composer on the occasion of his marriage in 1837.

The Sonata is in four movements: I. Moderato espressivo; II. Allegro agitato; III. Moderato grazioso and IV. Presto agitato.

The first of these runs to an extraordinary 16:12 in a tirelessly inventive flow of romantic bel canto with moments of bell-like lyrical repose. The emotional temperature cools and then rises a degree or so for the six-minute Allegro agitato. The effect overall recalls the Schumann Piano Concerto.

Robert Schumann  Symphonic Études, first version (1834)

The Schumann Symphonic Études (1834) were dedicated to William Sterndale Bennett so there is a case for these two works sharing a disc. Bennett responded in kind by dedication his own Fantasy op. 16 to Schumann.

Takenouchi’s reading is romantically affluent, poundingly sonorous and rich in pathos. I especially enjoyed the stiff-legged strut of Étude IV but he is generally in commanding form throughout.

Artalinna thoughtfully provides an access track for each of the work’s theme and twelve variations. The pianist has written the helpful booklet notes and they are in English with German and French translations.

Takenouchi revels in the tempestuous ferment that shakes these two peaks of the romantic fleuve. He is excitingly recorded with unflinching stopping power.