> James Clapperton - Long Journey Back - Piano Music [CT]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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James CLAPPERTON (b.1968)
Long Journey Back - Piano Music

Long Journey Back (1998)
The Ressoning betuir Aige an Yowth (1992)
Stephen’s Piano Book (1996): They’re writing songs of love but not for me…; Edain; Howard Skempton; Renard; Sarah
Mikhashoffschina (1994-98)
Haar (1988)
Michael’s Piano Book (1994): The Cathedral at Freiburg; Café Greco; St. Patrick’s Day
The Testament of Cresseid (1989-90)
Two North East Songs (1998): My Heart is broke since thy departure (arr. Clapperton); Mrs Major Stewart of the island of Java (arr. Clapperton)
James Clapperton (piano)
Recorded in the Gunnar Sævigs Sal, Griegakademiet, Bergen (dates not given)
METIER MSV CD92033 DDD [69:03]

Born in Aberdeen where he spent his childhood, composer/pianist James Clapperton studied in Freiburg and at Buffalo University before returning to the United Kingdom to complete an MMus at Exeter University with Philip Grange and a DPhil in composition with Michael Finnissy at Sussex University.

As a pianist he spent a good deal of time immersed in the "mesmerising complexity" of composers such as Brian Ferneyhough, Xenakis and Finnissy, all of whom he still admires, although his own music underwent a dramatic change around 1988 when he moved towards a new language of simplicity, perhaps closest at times to Howard Skempton (Clapperton describes Skempton as the "emperor of the miniature"). Indeed, Skempton is acknowledged by name in Stephen’s Piano Book, commissioned by pianist Stephen Osborne. In his brief tribute to Skempton, Clapperton’s language is reduced to its bare minimum: a sequence of straightforward chord progressions, unembellished by melody, moving line or counterpoint. Elsewhere, the music ranges from melody in its sparsest form to works (often the more substantial pieces in length) which still hark back to the dissonance of earlier pieces, often showing a predilection for glistening, chromatic passage work in the highest register of the piano set against slower moving melodic and chordal sequences in the left hand.

This latter conflict of harmony and material is possibly at its most obvious and effective in The Ressoning betuir Aige an Yowth, taking Robert Henryson’s poem in which two figures, one young, one old, espouse the virtues of "aige an yowth". Written for two pianos the composer tells us that he replaces antiphony with cacophony in a deliberate attempt to avoid the usual device of passing motive. Stylistically Mikhashoffschina, written in tribute to Yvar Mikhashoff, Clapperton’s piano teacher at Buffalo University, inhabits the same world whilst evaporating into a tender, melodic central elegy, clearly a very personal response to a man who had a major influence on the composer.

The earliest work following Clapperton’s "conversion", Haar of 1988, is a brief portrait of a mist shrouded Aberdeen, the word quite literally meaning sea mist, whilst The Testament of Cresseid, which followed over the course of the next two years, again turns to the poetry of Robert Henryson for inspiration. It is in this work that Clapperton succeeds in merging his differing sound worlds to the most homogeneous effect, echoed in the poetry telling of two figures and their unrequited love for each other.

Like Howard Skempton, Clapperton has the ability to move his listener with the simplest of material and Long Journey Back, from which the disc takes its title, is a notable example, written as a tribute to the composer’s father following a stroke. By the same token, St. Patrick’s Day, the final piece of the Finnissy dedicated Michael’s Piano Book, is a beautiful elegy in response to political events in Northern Ireland and in particular the release of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four.

A good number of these pieces have the unmistakable influence of the composer’s Scottish roots embedded in them, both melodically and in the rhythmic inflections that permeate the music. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that the disc closes with arrangements of two "North East Songs", both touchingly realised and somehow entirely characteristic of the composer’s stylistic fingerprint.

It would be good to have the opportunity to hear more of Clapperton’s work outside the piano repertory, his violin concerto, The Preiching of the Swallow for instance, won the PRS award in 1993. There are also commissions for the Endymion Ensemble and a number of festivals. In the meantime however this interesting, at times touching, collection of pieces definitively played by the composer, serves as a fine introduction to Clapperton’s music. All credit to Metier for coming up trumps once again with music that deserves to be better known.

Christopher Thomas

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