Gentle and Meditative
Music by Peter Dickinson,
Peter Dickinson's work as a composer may have been overshadowed by his prominence as an academic, pianist and writer whose championing of American composers began when he was a student at the Juilliard School in New York. There at that time (the late 50s) he almost inevitably came under the influence John Cage, Edgar Varèse and Henry Cowell, each a dramatic musical explorer and experimentalist. He worked for a while as a pianist with the New York City Ballet and then returned to England, later to become Professor of Music at Keele University where he established the department of American studies, the most significant centre of its kind outside USA.
As this welcome reissue recital will show, Dickinson has a gentle and meditative musical personality, enlivened with occasional rhythmic vitality. Most of the music is for piano, the major item being Eric Parkin's 1988 BBC recording of Sonatas for piano with Tape Playback, a fascinating and often delicate intermingling of pre-recorded and live textures
[listen -- track 8, 0:07-1:10].
Dickinson himself plays Five Diversions and Four Easy Pieces, both written in the 60s, and Eight Very Easy Pieces written in 1979, all of which illustrate an interest in searching out what is intriguing -- and difficult to capture -- about sheer simplicity. The cycle of pieces called The Unicorns for soprano and brass ensemble, introduced with a fanfare
[listen -- track 23, 1:47-2:35]
seems a less inspired project, three poems by John Heath-Stubbs each separated by short movements, a dance and a fugue, and sung rather distantly by Elisabeth Söderström.
By far the most arresting piece on the CD is Winter Afternoons, commissioned by the King's Singers in 1971, and it is their 1971 performance for EMI that is here reissued, with Rodney Slatford playing the obbligato double bass. In this atmospheric setting of texts by Emily Dickinson, its rhythmic liveliness
[listen -- track 2, 2:25-3:48]
and highly effective colours
[listen -- track 2, 8:06-8:53]
must place it among Dickinson's most successful pieces.
Unfortunately the track numbering on this CD is wrong after track ten, onto which the last two movements of the Sonatas for Piano are compressed, thus reducing by one the rest. The recital begins with a very recent and pleasing piano piece, Bach in Blue, written in 2004 and played by the composer.
Copyright © 28 April 2007
Patric Standford, Wakefield UK
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BASIL RAMSEY ON THE MUSIC OF PETER DICKINSON
Peter Dickinson - Pianos Voices and Brass
TROY760 ADD/DDD Stereo FIRST RELEASE 78'18" 2005 Albany Records
Peter Dickinson, piano (Bach in Blue, Diversions, Easy Pieces); The King's Singers: Nigel Perrin, counter-tenor; Alastair Hume, counter-tenor; Alastair Thompson, tenor; Simon Carrington, baritone; Brian Kay, bass (Winter Afternoons); Rodney Slatford, double bass (Winter Afternoons); Eric Parkin, piano (Sonatas); Elisabeth Söderström, soprano (The Unicorns); Solna Brass conducted by Lars-Gunnar Björklund (The Unicorns)
Peter Dickinson (born 1934): Bach in Blue (2004); Winter Afternoons (1971, texts: Emily Dickinson); Five Diversions (1963); Sonatas for Piano with Tape Playback (1987); Four Easy Pieces (1965); Eight Very Easy Pieces (1979); The Unicorns (1982)
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