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'If I look at what I do', Sainsbury explains, 'I suppose I could say that there are two quite different aspects -- largely defined by the piano side and the orchestral side. I would certainly acknowledge the legacy of Elgar, Walton and Holst in my orchestral work, whereas my piano music occupies a very different world: there's definitely a flamenco and Latin American influence there! I've always loved flamenco guitar music and the whole feel of the flamenco tradition generally -- very fiery and proud.' Not all of the composer's piano music has this influence, though -- pieces such as Nocturne, Sea Storm, and the varied set of Twelve Preludes have shades of Chopin and Debussy.

Direct, down-to-earth and very forthright in his opinions about music, Sainsbury's simplicity of approach is quickly evident. 'I think music is an expression of emotion. Thomas Hardy once referred to the amazing power of the composer to summon up feelings. It's something intensely individualistic, but you find it and recognise it in all different kinds of music -- in the St John Passion, for example -- much of Bach's music is terrifically powerful and intense. You find it in Elgar and also in Chopin.'

Sainsbury at the piano in his Oxfordshire home. Photo: Keith Bramich
Sainsbury at the piano in his Oxfordshire home. Photo: Keith Bramich

As a gifted pianist, Sainsbury has recorded a selection of his piano music on CD, to critical acclaim -- the Andalusian Fantasy, Twelve Preludes, the Cuban Fantasy (recently broadcast on BBC Radio 3), Nocturne and the South American Suite, (the CD is available online from Tutti -- read the separate M&V review) -- and has recently given various solo concerts of his own music.

Sketch of Lionel Sainsbury by Bob Williams, 1995, as shown on the cover of the composer's piano music disc.
Sketch of Lionel Sainsbury by Bob Williams, 1995, as shown on the cover of the composer's piano music disc.

Sainsbury's audiences are consistently enthusiastic, and his music has been played by performers such as Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra, John Lenehan, Nigel Clayton, and William Boughton's English String Orchestra. Lionel's own arrangement for violin and piano of the second of his Two Cuban Dances was premièred by Tasmin Little and Piers Lane in 1992, and has since become one of the violinist's frequently played encore pieces.

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Copyright © 4 August 2002 Keith Bramich, Worcestershire, UK

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A REVIEW OF THE LIONEL SAINSBURY PIANO CD

LIONEL SAINSBURY'S WEBPAGE

THE THREE CHOIRS FESTIVAL

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