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Partita, Op 5b

1935-36; version for two pianos of the orchestral Op 5a

As its name implies, Ferguson's Partita is a collection of movements whose characteristics arise from the Baroque suite of dances to which he has added the dimension of Classical symphonic form, and the rich textures of late-Romantic piano writing. Thus the first movement combines the pattern of the French overture 'a slow introduction and conclusion framing a fast section' with sonata form which is the basis of the Allegro. The opening is cast in the dominant of the overall key of the Partita, F sharp major; its marking, 'Grave', and dotted rhythms allude to its Baroque predecessors. A purposeful, oscillating theme in 7/8, punctuated by acciaccature provides the main idea of the 'Allegretto pesante'; tonally, it is ambiguous with its shifting major and minor third. The contrasting subject is a falling cantabile phrase which during the course of the movement is combined with the main theme.

Symphonically, the second movement in B minor fills the function of a scherzo and in Baroque terms it is the French courante. During it, Ferguson exploits the rhythmic ambiguity of the dance with its six beats in a bar which may be divided into either three groups of two or two groups of three. The indication 'Allegro un poco agitato' gives the clue to the mood of the music which is frequently restless, and as in the Piano Sonata the fall of a semitone plays a significant role here. The contrasting theme, a wistful little melody in 6/4 accompanied by a pedal point, forms the basis of the coda and brings the movement to a hushed but uneasy close.

The slow movement (Andante un poco mosso) is a stately sarabande in the key of B, whose ceremonial gait is threaded by a pervasive mordent. During the middle section the music ascends in register; amidst transparent texture, the sarabande melody is accompanied pianissimo by the mordent decoration and trills to create a passage of delicate beauty.

Following Bach's precepts in some of his Partitas, Ferguson does not adopt a particular dance form for the Finale although he suggests that `hints of a reel may often be lurking around the corner'. From its puckish, scherzando beginnings a sonata-rondo movement evolves in a mood of boisterous good humour. In the central episode the tempo slackens to 'Più lento' and at first the music seems set on a development of the opening idea; however, this is cunningly transformed into an echo of the second movement theme, then extended and intensified into a poignant phrase, dolente and cantabile. But this darker mood does not prevail; the high spirits return and as F sharp major is firmly reached the momentum gathers and plunges headlong to an exhilarating conclusion.

from notes by Andrew Burn © 1984


Ferguson: Sonata & Partita
CDA66130Archive Service


Movement 1: Grave – Allegro pesante
Movement 2: Allegro un poco agitato
Movement 3: Andante un poco mosso
Movement 4: Allegro con spirito

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