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Graham FITKIN (b. 1963)
Log (1990/1) ¹; Line (1990/1) ¹; Loud (1990/1) ¹; Hook (1991/2)²; Mesh (1991/2) ³; Stub (1991/2) º; Cud (1987/8) ª; Aract (1990) *; Fervent (1992/4) *; Piano Piece 91 *; Piano Piece very early 92 *; Piano Piece early 92 *; Hard Fairy (1994) *; Blue (1993) *; Piano Piece mid 92 *; Piano Piece late 92 *; Piano piece very late 92 *; Piano Piece 93 *; Fract (1989) *
Piano Circus ¹
Ensemble Bash ²
Icebreaker ³
Delta Saxophone Quartet º
John Harle Band ª
Graham Fitkin, piano *, conductor ª
Recorded at Church Studios, Crouch End, London, September 2001 ¹, CTS Studios, Wembley, July 1992 ² ³ º and October 1992 (Cud), Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, February 1994 * and May 1994 (Hard Fairy).
British Music Collection
DECCA 473 434-2 [71.38+78.18]

This is a useful anthology of music by the young Cornish composer Graham Fitkin, reissuing pieces which first appeared on the Argo label in the 1990s. The selection ranges from small ensemble items on the first disc to a mixture of pieces for band or piano on the second.

Early influences included Steve Reich and Fitkin's teacher Louis Andriessen. This is especially apparent in the more minimalist pieces for piano sextet (Log, Line and Loud) and the other works for more mixed ensemble on disc one. Rhythm, especially of the jazz-based percussive type is also a major feature, although even here signs of a more lyrical, expansive style are becoming apparent.

I enjoyed the second disc much more, with the twin presences of the composer (as pianist and conductor) and John Harle (as leader of his own band and as featured saxophonist) looming large. The first piece Cud, written for the Cleveland Youth Jazz Orchestra, is given a superlative performance. The booklet notes make much of the idea that, despite borrowing from jazz, Fitkin is, in essence, a classicist with little truck with improvisation. He finds this piece "hysterically funny". It is certainly entertaining but it is much more than the send-up hinted at. The rest of the second disc features a much more pared-down set of pieces. This is crowned by the superb Hard Fairy, in which the composer is joined by John Lenehan and Harle to create a piece which truly soars. It reminds me very much of Michael Nyman's lovely Where the Bee Dances. What remains is either played at the piano alone by Fitkin and very impressive it is too. In the case of Aract and the extended Fract, the composer plays in duet with fellow pianist Eleanor Alberga. Despite the mostly functional titles, much of this music is introspective, subdued but very beautifully put together. It reminded me occasionally of the solo piano tracks with which fellow Cornishman and electronic wunderkind Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) intersperses his more abstract works. James has also collaborated with Philip Glass and Gavin Bryars, which makes sense of the comparison, I suppose. Some of the pieces, e.g. Blue, are dance or other media-related reconstructions. However there is still a sense of fragility and even nostagia which is more or less all-pervading.

In conclusion, the first disc may contain the more radical works but I will return much more often to the exuberantly and winningly lyrical Hard Fairy and the delicate minor key studies of its companions on disc two. All in all this is an excellent choice for reissue in Decca's British Music Collection, and worthy of your attention.

Neil Horner



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