Saturday 9 February 2013

Fresh and appealing works by Percy Sherwood on a new release from Toccata Classics

Percy Sherwood (1866-1939), born in Dresden, was the son of Englishman John Sherwood, a lecturer in English at Dresden University and a German mother Auguste Koch, a successful soprano.

After his studies at the Dresden Conservatoire with Theodor Kirchner, Felix Draeseke and Herman Scholtz, he became a major figure in the music life of Dresden before the First World War. In 1889, his Requiem won the Mendelssohn Prize. In 1911he became a professor at the Dresden Conservatory. Shortly before the First World War he and his wife left Dresden to visit England. Being almost unknown in England, he made a living as a private teacher in London and travelling weekly to Oxford and Cambridge. He never returned to Germany and eventually faded into complete obscurity before dying in 1939.

Dutton Vocalion have already recorded Sherwood’s Piano Concerto No.2 in E flat major (1932/33) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Martin Yates with Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano). (CDLX 7287).

A recent release from Toccata Classics includes the complete works for Cello and piano with Joseph Spooner (cello) and David Owen Norris (piano)

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Sherwood’s Cello Sonata No.1 in D major Op.10 was written in 1891and published seven years later in Leipzig. Whilst Sherwood’s teacher, Felix Draeseke, appears to have been a strong influence on this relatively early work, it opens with a richly attractive allegro moderato with a lovely romantic melody and wonderful interplay between instruments. There is a second subject built on the opening rhythmic theme before the return of the first subject, which undergoes some subtle twists and turns before the opening theme once more appears in a transformed version, to quietly end the movement. There is some boldly impassioned playing here from Joseph Spooner and David Owen Norris, making the most of the ebb and flow of Sherwood’s themes.

In the adagio the piano opens with a straightforward theme but soon the cello enters bringing a wistful feel. When the second subject arrives it heralds more impassioned playing and the eventual return of the opening theme. The impassioned theme returns once more before a quiet coda.

The final Finale presto is introduced by the piano before a lively theme ensues.  A lyrical second subject follows which goes through some development before the opening theme reappears, only to drop back to the second subject leading to the coda, a forcefully dramatic end. Sherwood couldn’t have had better advocates than Spooner and Norris.

Drei Stucke Op.14 In Legende: Andante the solo cello opens with a rather tragic theme before the piano joins leading to a graceful melody with an impassioned central section, played impressively by Spooner. The opening theme returns before the end. The short Intermezzo: Allegretto, temperamente is a light, nicely sprung piece before a bold and rhythmic Saltarello: Presto that has a more expansive central section. Towards the end the music fairly hurtles to a conclusion, in a terrific coda, with Spooner and Norris providing some fabulous playing in the difficult writing.

Sherwood’s Cello Sonata No.2 in A major Op.15 was written in 1900 and is a much more mature piece. There are lovely expansive, rippling piano passages at the opening to the Allegro vivace. The cello quickly enters in a lovely rising theme and there is very much an outdoors feel to the writing. The second subject brings some virtuoso writing for both instruments at its climax before dropping back with the piano playing against pizzicato cello. The music develops to another powerful climax with more virtuoso writing and some terrific playing from both Spooner and Norris. The coda brings some lovely playing as it gently rises to a climax and a final restatement of the opening theme.  The short Legende: Andante semplice has a simple flowing theme, which is developed a little more intensively, before returning to its quiet flowing opening. The Minuetto:Allegretto grazioso has a syncopated theme with a free flowing trio section. The Finale: Allegro molto opens boldly and expansively on cello and piano with great forward momentum. It has a faster, lithe, central section and a resounding coda. What playing there is from these two instrumentalists.

The 5 kleine stucke are early works written around 1886 to 1887. They are light pieces but, nevertheless, extremely attractive. There is a little molto moderato with a lovely central section; a Menuett: Grazioso, non troppo allegro that has a pointed rhythm, complete with a flowing trio section and an Adagio with a straightforward but beautiful melody. Sherwood seems to have been able to write such lovely melodies with such simple means. The fourth piece is a rich flowing andante before the final Serenade: Andantino, a kind of waltz with a lyrical central section.

These are works that I have been very glad to have heard, particularly the second cello sonata. Whilst Sherwood breaks no new ground, what he does provide is a freshness to his compositions that is very appealing.  This new release deserves a firm recommendation to all interested in British music and, indeed, those who love fine music making.

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