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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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