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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Spectrum 4: 66 Miniatures for solo piano
Julian GRANT ...diamonds of a most praised water...
Alexandre LUNSQUI ...tornando-se...
Victoria BORISOVA-OLLAS A Midnight Bell
Gerald BARRY Agnes von Hohenstaufen
Timothy SALTER Ancient Footprints
Jesus TORRES Aurora
Simon BAINBRIDGE Bells
Sohrab UDUMAN Berceuse
PerMagnus LINDBORG Bugo Resonances
Colin MATTHEWS Cascade
Michael Zev GORDON Crystal Clear
Erkki-Sven TUUR Dreamy Moment
Roger REDGATE ecart
Eric MOE Echo's Brief Lament
Philip CASHIAN Edward
Martin BUTLER Evening Bells
Eleanor ALBERGA For Whom?
Ananda SUKARLAN Gentle Darkness
Ramon LAZKANO Gentle Sway
Snorri Sigfus BIRGISSON Helios
Daniel GIORGETTI Icicles
Michael BLAKE ikos'tina
Hilda PAREDES Las Estrellas
Alun HODDINOTT Leapfrog
Diana BURRELL Libra (Constellation No 4)
Detlev GLANERT Lied im Meer
Mindaugas URBAITIS Longing for Time's Faraway, Vanishing Things
Joao Pedro OLIVEIRA Looking into the Mirror
Howard SKEMPTON Lull
Pavel NOVAK Marian Flowers
Beat FURRER Melodie - fallend
Stephen MONTAGUE Midnight Moon
Adeline WONG Mind the Gap
David SAWER Moebius
Karen TANAKA Northern Lights
Faidros KAVALLARIS Nostalgia
Philip CASHIAN Orbit
Joyce Bee Tuan KOH Piano Peals
Graham FITKIN Piano Piece Surprisingly Early 03
Joseph VELLA Playing 6, 5, 4, 3, 2...
Raymond YIU podskok
Laurence CRANE Postlude
David GORTON Prelude after d'Anglebert
Peteris PLAKIDIS Quiet Walk in the Forest
Param VIR Ratri
Janet DAVEY Recollection
Andrew TOOVEY Red Bird
Alejandro GUARELLO S n d
Tazul Izan TAJUDDIN Sebuah Pantum
Gabriel JACKSON September Chorale
Yi CHEN Singing in the Mountain
Peter MAXWELL DAVIES Snow Cloud, over Lochan
John WHITE Sonata 140
Jeremy Dale ROBERTS Stone - Standing Stone
Alejandro VINAO Stumbling Star
Poul RUDERS Swinging Bells
Lyell CRESSWELL The Leith at Stockbridge
Aulis SALLINEN The Sigh of Barabbas
Giorgos KOUMENDAKIS The Silk Road
John MCLEOD The Temple by the Sea
Elena LANGER Utrecht Chimes
Barry CONYNGHAM Veils 1 "...veils of the morning..."
Rodney SHARMAN Voyageur
Roderik de MAN Wajang
Giles SWAYNE Whistling Tune
Siaw Kin LEE Xi Yue (Teasing the Moon)
Thalia Myers (piano)
rec. 2005, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
USK 1227CDD [50:45 + 48:15]


This, the fourth volume in a series of specially composed piano miniatures published by The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, brings the total number of new works in this 'Spectrum' series to 141. All of the works here were composed between 2002 and 2003, and are consistent with the idea behind Spectrum, which is to provide generally short, technically approachable pieces which nonetheless reflect the character of each individual composer.
 
Listeners might feel a little daunted by the sheer number of different composers and pieces on offer here, but this musical environment is a deeply fascinating one. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the composers names are irrelevant, but it is interesting to listen anonymously (or even 'Nemonymously' as a writer colleague of mine would have it) and view the whole thing as a sort of miniaturist's scrapbook of the kind of music written in a particular year. In this way these recordings equate to a research document, and listening 'blind' you sometimes have the impression that the music is flowing like a set of variations. This sense of unity is of course helped a little by Thalia Myers' excellent playing. She has a natural gift for presenting the individual character of each piece, but her own personal 'sound' is of course a constant, whether it be in works quiet and lyrical, or boldly accented and angular. It almost goes without saying that the recording is superb, with the proven plus of Snape Maltings' acoustic supporting the piano in splendidly suspended silence.
 
It is interesting, if perhaps unsurprising to note how many of these little gems are quiet and restrained. Even when the dynamic goes beyond forte it is often an interjection, with quieter material forming the bulk of the work (Beat Furrer's Melodie-fallend, Alejandro Guarello's S n d, Ramon Lazkano's Gentle Sway, Hilda Paredes' Las estrellas, Param Vir's Ratri) or the brief climax to an arch form (Detlev Glanert's Lied im Meer). Just looking at the titles you can get a sense of the almost, quasi, not-quite-but-almost (dare I say it?) 'new-age' feel that infuses many of these pieces, so it is always refreshing when some more substantial music pops up (Alun Hoddinott's Leapfrog, Erkki-Sven Tüür's Short Meeting of Dark and Light, Joseph Vella's Playing 6,5,4,3,2...) or a sense of humour (Gerald Barry's Agnes von Hohenstaufen). One or two works with electronic extras also provide welcome variety (Barry Conyngham's Veils 1, Joyce Beetuan Koh's Piano Peals, Roderik de Man's Wajang, Joăo Pedro Oliveira's Looking in the mirror, and one of my favourites; PerMagnus Lindborg's Bugo Resonances). There are very few atonal serialists (Roger Redgate's Webernesque écart), nor many Messiaen soundalikes (Jesús Torres' Aurora), and almost no 'jazz chords' (Raymond Yiu's podskok).
 
I was intrigued to see well-known composers being set against names which were new to me. The only one I think I might have identified correctly was Peter Maxwell Davies, whose Snow Cloud, over Lochan is impregnated with honest Scotch snaps. Once you put the name to the piece it's often a case of 'ooooh yes' - the fingerprints are there, just harder to spot sometimes, like picking out red roses in a poppy field. It is certainly interesting to hear how each composer approaches the framework of technical accessibility and compactness of duration. One might expect to find a little more intensity here and there, someone interested in solving the problem by some means of compression rather than in one or other kind of 'mood' music. There are some moments of genuine loveliness though (Karen Tanaka's Northern Lights), and nothing I would point to and criticise for being in any sense weak. Individual taste will sort out your own favourites, but you can rest assured that there's nothing offensively awful hiding among the small-but-perfectly-formed.
 
This is an ongoing project which should most certainly be continued, possibly in the direction of similar sets of new works for 'instruments with piano' or instrumental duets (If they call it 'Gamut 1' I have a piece already gift-wrapped!). As someone involved with the teaching profession I welcome such an injection of new life into the repertoire, and can imagine serious piano students being introduced to all kinds of new sounds and challenges with these works. As a recording it goes far beyond being 'just an educational project,' and as Thalia Myers herself describes it as an 'international art gallery of contemporary piano music' it's an exhibition which is very much worth the entry price, and well worth exploring at length.
 
Dominy Clements
 

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