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Algernon Ashton( 1859-1937) premier recording
Sonata no.2 in G major, Op.75, for violoncello and piano [1892]

Almost none of the music of Algernon Ashton has appeared on recording, including his second cello sonata. The first-movement Allegro is set in an expansive sonata form. A common adaptation employed by Ashton, used in both outer movements, is to bring the opening material back in the subdominant key, allowing the recapitulation to unfold without change, to finish in the tonic key. His tendency to write movements laden with figurative detail can be observed in the slow movement. The finale presents a variety of busy thematic material, replete with relentless technical challenges not entirely idiomatic for either instrument. This is a breathless moto perpetuo, in which the sextuplet groupings of sixteenth-notes are rarely absent.

Ashton is little remembered today, in spite of a staggering output of piano and chamber music. Early life in Germany meant recognition of his talent in Britain was always a struggle – one he never won in spite of 25 years of piano teaching at the Royal College of Music. His ubiquitous letters to the editors of British newspapers earned him greater fame as a self-appointed guardian of the grave sites of famous people, than he ever enjoyed as a composer. His dismay at this lack would have been fired by the bitter irony of his considerable acclaim within Germany. He had published almost a hundred works there by the mid 1890s, and continued his almost exclusive association with German firms to the end of his life.

His music, out of sight and mind for over 80 years now, is ripe for revival. It is a remarkable treasure-trove of vital, persuasive ideas, well crafted, and applied typically to large canvases. His musical ideas are fresh and original, given that he was predisposed to a stylistic conservatism that linked him more with Schumann, Brahms, and his own teachers Raff and Reinecke, than with his contemporaries. Like Beethoven, his initial ideas sometimes seem insignificant, only to reveal their full potential upon development. He remained faithful to his manner of composing throughout his mature life and, once one gets past the stiffness of his earliest opuses (such as his first cello sonata), little stylistic transformation is evident.

It is likely that the formidable demands made by much of Ashton’s music in terms of execution militated against its acceptance, at a time when the more moderate technical gifts and taste of the cultivated amateur prevailed.

"…what Turner does with landscape Ashton does with melody!"
Rutland Boughton

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