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Simon HOLT (b. 1958)
Tauromaquia (1985) [12:18]
a book of colours (1988/93) [21:24]
Black Lanterns (1984, rev. 2004) [8:10]
Klop’s Last Bite (2004) [10:22]
Nigredo (1994, rev. 2004) [16:18]
Rolf Hind (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 27-28 July 2008
NMC D128 [69:17]
Experience Classicsonline

Although he may be best known for his orchestral music and his works for ensemble, Simon Holt also composed piano music and still does. This is not that surprising since he is a pianist. The present release is devoted to piano works composed between 1984 and 2004, thus encompassing some twenty years of his composing career. In the meantime, Holt has composed yet another piano work, a book of shadow (2005) that has been omitted from this disc.

Holt’s works very often bear an evocative title that sheds some light on the music’s content or on some subliminal idea that triggered the composition. His music, however, is neither descriptive nor programmatic. Thus Tauromaquia has been inspired by Goya’s series of studies of the same name depicting bullfighting and particularly one portraying the death of a celebrated bullfighter José Delgado. The music, appropriately enough, alternates energetic sections to be played “with great bravura and at all times a knife-edge intensity and power”. The piece ends with a cortège for the bullfighter Delgado.

The five movements that make up a book of colours were composed between 1988 and 1993. The starting point was Duendecitos (1988) composed as a short 80th birthday tribute to Sir William Glock. Holt then decided to add further pieces to make a set of pieces that might - to some extent - be compared to or suggest some of Debussy’s Preludes in that their evocative titles clearly hints at some features of the music. The rather black humour of Duendecitos - again inspired by an etching by Goya showing a group of lecherous, dwarfish monks - starkly contrasts with the delicately chiselled Figurine that follows. A shapeless flame and Some distant chimes - both composed in 1992 - form a contrasted diptych. The final movement The thing that makes ashes (a euphemism used by certain African tribe to describe fire) is some sort of summing-up of the entire cycle.

An ‘insect snuff movie’ as the composer describes it Klop’s Last Bite is in ten epigrammatic movements that trace out an action-packed scenario - “a battle between a bed bug called Klop and a mad, marauding flea, which all ends rather tragically”. The most remarkable thing about this fine piece is the way with which a maximum is achieved with a minimum of means, the mark of a true master.

Though not conceived as such, Black Lanterns composed in 1984 as a 50th birthday tribute to Harrison Birtwistle and Nigredo composed in 1994 as a 60th birthday tribute to Peter Maxwell Davies might also be regarded as a pair for “each starts out from an obsessive fascination with an oscillating semitone before venturing into far more bravura territory”. These pieces as well as the other recorded here are quite virtuosic but also require a good deal of musicianship, and needless to say that Rolf Hind possesses both technique and musicianship in plenty.

Holt’s music may be complex - at least from the performer’s standpoint - but never extravagantly so; and his piano music makes its full impact without ever resorting to any of the all-too-often used ‘gimmicks’ of contemporary writing for piano. This is beautiful music superbly and most idiomatically written for the instrument that generously repays repeated hearings.

I must also mention that while preparing this review I unashamedly plundered Andrew Clements’s well-informed insert notes.

Holt’s music has been rather well-served by NMC so far since this disc is their third release devoted to his music. Now they owe us another disc (or more) with some of his orchestral music.

The present release confirms Holt’s status as one of the most endearing composers of his generation. This magnificent release will undoubtedly be on my list of Recordings of the Year.

Hubert Culot



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