to come across more of Sadie Harrison’s music.
I waxed lyrical, and at length, on her ‘Light
Garden Trilogy’ when it was performed last
The much shorter, although hardly less impressive,
Impresa Amorosa (the correct spelling
– ‘Impressa amorosa’ appears erroneously elsewhere
in the programme booklet) is a set of seven
short piano pieces dating from 1996. The title
is from the 15th century practice
of love tokens exchanged between knights and
their loves, the significance of which were
known uniquely to the lovers. Consisting of
an image and motto, each made no sense without
the other. Later this concept came to symbolise
the shortcoming of language as a communicative
tool. As Harrison puts it, ‘it is at this
point that the relationship between the aesthetic
of the impresa and the musical Impresa
a very fertile relationship it is, too. As
a generative concept it clearly fired Harrison’s
imagination and in turn, Harrison’s score
inspired pianist Christina Mairi Lawrie to
great things. Lawrie’s advocacy was never
in doubt, her wide tonal range complementing
Harrison’s often sensuously beautiful textures
perfectly. The opening to ‘Falcon/Semper (Always)’
was beautifully projected by Lawrie: the sparse,
open sound brought to mind a much deconstructed,
recontextualised Cathédrale engloutie.
Lawrie fully realised the contrasts in this
work, hardening her tone as appropriate, then
(memorably) darkening it (especially for one
particular passage that came across with all
the disturbing emotive force of late Liszt).
Melodies were projected well without being
forced on the listener, and the more virtuoso
passages gave Lawrie few problems.
sensitivity to harmony and the inherent potentialities
of any given simultaneity result in some passages
of extreme beauty. Just sometimes, though,
there was the impression that the musical
material wanted to ‘stretch’ itself, to reveal
more to the listener about itself yet did
not quite get the chance. Nevertheless, this
did not disappoint and it is to be hoped reaquaintance
will be swift. Do Metier Records, who recorded
‘The Light Garden’, have any plans to set
this down? I hope so.
Elias’ 1987 Variations is based, structurally,
on Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor.
As with the Beethoven, Elias’ theme is rugged
– yet he does not share Beethoven’s genius.
Lawrie presented this piece in the fairest
possible light, making some parts dance and
showing her astonishing technique in fast,
high-register passage-work. But … well, there
are several buts. When Elias invokes a bleak
soundscape, he suddenly sounds rather impotently
non-directional. Further, some gestures sounded
like mere space-filling, particularly one
which seemed to say, ‘Now we’ll go up the
keyboard … and now we’ll go down it again’
(without any real musical/structural point
whatsoever). Despite all of Lawrie’s virtuosity,
one is left wondering whether all the effort
for her to learn this work was worth it. A
case of the idea being substantially better
than its actual realisation.
qualms with James MacMillan’s Piano Sonata
of 1985 (he was subsequently to reuse some
material from this work in a symphony). The
barren first movement, with its obsessive
D sharp, and the haunting finale frame a substantial
second movement that is highly gestural, but
playfully so. Contrast between what might
be termed ‘compressed monumental’ stillness
and toccata-like outbursts is highly effective.
recital from a pianist of real talent, particularly
for the Harrison and the MacMillan.