Gramophone

Graham Whettam is another composer (b1927) of my own generation whose music has been eclipsed and allowed to be all but forgotten in an era of avant-garde ugliness and atonal meandering. He is given only an eighth of a page in the New Grove, although to be fair Hugo Cole writes enthusiastically about the “exuberant vitality” of his orchestra music. One could say the same of his piano music, where the composer develops his ideas in a very individual way.

Fantsy for piano duet (1956) is the earliest work here and, adopted from a piece for flute, oboe and piano, is immediately arresting; but it is the Prelude, Scherzo and Elegy (1964) which sets the pattern for these works with its opening Prelude, first mysteriously evocative then toccata-like, leading to a boldly assertive, irregularly rhythmic Scherzo, and finally returning to the gently elegiac mood of the opening. Prelude and Scherzo impetuoso (commissioned for the 1967 Cheltenham Festival) is a finer work in a similar style but more succinct, full of glitter and rumbustious rhythmic drama. This led to the commissioning the following year of the major work here, the four-movement Night Music Sonata, which exploit’s the piano’s fullest range fro a slow mysterious Fantasia, decorated with arabesques, leading to a Notturno lunare. The central Scherzo frenetico was inspired by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, with the Dies Irae parodied at the climax.

Ballade hebraïque is the most recent composition (1981), performed here in an arrangement specially prepared by the composer for these performers. All in all an impressive and rewarding collection given exceptionally vivid recording in a warm acoustic.

—Ivan March