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Piano Sonata in C minor, Op 2
1807; published in Paris; dedicated to Miss Charlotte Onslow

'Spohr & Onslow: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67947)
Spohr & Onslow: Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegro maestoso
Movement 2: Menuetto: Allegro – Trio
Movement 3: Andante con variazioni
Movement 4: Pastorale: Allegretto

Piano Sonata in C minor, Op 2
By 1807 Onslow may well have known Beethoven’s two C minor sonatas from the 1790s, Op 10 No 1 and the ‘Pathétique’, Op 13. But there is little of Beethoven’s rhetorical vehemence in his own C minor sonata, where the turbulence associated with the minor mode c1800 is tempered by aristocratic good taste. The first movement grows, Haydn-like, entirely from the stern, march-like theme announced at the outset. Worked in canonic imitation, it then turns up in playfully decorative guise as a second subject. Onslow draws further meanings from this fertile theme in the widely modulating development, culminating in an exciting, protracted crescendo over a bass pedal. The recapitulation begins in C major, with the playful version of the theme, then quickly slips back to C minor. But C major has the last word, with the main theme sounding softly in the bass before the music disappears mysteriously into the depths.

Canonic writing is also a prominent feature of the C minor minuet, whose flicking grace-notes give a pungent kick to the rhythm. In the second part the gliding chromaticisms and minor/major equivocations sound almost Schubertian, as does the delightful waltz-trio, spiced by irregular phrase lengths and hovering between A flat and F minor. For the third movement Onslow writes a set of five variations on a pensive slow march tune, offsetting the prevailing toccata-like brilliance with a grave minor-keyed variation, No 4. Despite passing squalls—not least in the final pages—the finale is a monothematic sonata-rondo in a lilting pastoral 6/8 metre that shares the canonic tendencies of the first movement and minuet. As in the opening Allegro, the coda presents the theme over a tremolo bass (Onslow here instructs the pianist to use both the soft and the sustaining pedal) before the music fades away in a downward flurry of arpeggios.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2012

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Details for CDA67947 track 8
Andante con variazioni
Recording date
15 November 2011
Recording venue
St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Annabel Connellan
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan
Hyperion usage
  1. Spohr & Onslow: Piano Sonatas (CDA67947)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: September 2012
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