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Piers HELLAWELL (b. 1956)
Dogs and Wolves

Cors de chasse (2000)a [14:04]
Weaver of Grass (2002)b [9:05]
Driftwood on Sand (2001)c [21:40]
The Building of Curves (1998)b [10:45]
Dogs and Wolves (2005)d [8:51]
Schubert Ensembleb; RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartetc; Mark O’Keeffe (trumpet)a; Jonas Bylund (trombone)a
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Pierre-André Valadead
rec. City Halls, Glasgow, 17 May 2007 (Cors de chasse, Dogs and Wolves); Champs Hill, Sussex, 25 January 2007 (Weaver of Grass, The Building of Curves) and RTÉ Studios, Dublin, 14 October 2005 (Driftwood on Sand)
Experience Classicsonline

Hellawell’s music has been well served by Metronome. This is their third release entirely devoted to his music. Each volume explores a decade of his composing career. The titles of many of Hellawell’s works give an idea of what might have triggered their composition rather than suggesting any programmatic concern. An example is his series of works sharing the title “sound carvings”. This applies to all the works recorded here.

Drawn from a few lines from a poem by Apollinaire, Cors de chasse (“Hunting Horns”) is an apt title for a short double concerto for trumpet, trombone and orchestra. It is in one movement falling into six main sections. The piece opens with a brisk dialogue between different orchestral groups. The second section introduces an animated conversation between the soloists. A more lightly scored section follows, succeeded by a long chaconne building-up to the work’s main climax. An accompanied cadenza leads into a fast coda restoring the tempo of the opening section.

Weaver of Grass for piano quintet with double-bass instead of cello is a series of fragments. These suggest the many artefacts made of grass by Angus McPhee during years of mental illness. This eventually becomes a short set of variations which at first tend to coalesce and finally rise to a furious and jazzy coda.

Driftwood on Sand is Hellawell’s second string quartet, the first being The Still Dancers (1992) also recorded by the Vanbrugh Quartet and available on Metronome MET CD 1059. The piece is built around two movements, each framed by a short prelude. The main movements are fixed whereas the preludes may be played in any order. The preludes are the “driftwood” of the title whereas the main movements are its “sand”. The first main movement is a substantial Largo while the second is a fast one marked “Volante”. Such ‘open’ works may pose a problem as far as recordings are concerned. It is now possible to preset the order of the preludes in order to experience some of the possibilities. This recording, however, presents an ordering often used by the Vanbrugh Quartet. I find it quite convincing but I must tell you the truth: I did not try to preset the preludes in a different order. Anyway, Driftwood on Sand is by far the most substantial work here and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful.

The piano quartet The Building of Curves is in two sections “balancing active and contemplative pieces”. The work is partly conceived as a celebration of Frank Gehry’s elaborately curved Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The composer also mentions that “the shape of the work was [for me] connected to Andrew Wiles’ solution to Fermat’s theorem”. Thanks, but I must admit that I am none the wiser for that. By the way, is not music essentially a building of curves? Let this not deter you in any way for The Building of Curves is a really fine work that repays repeated hearings on purely musical ground.

The title of Dogs and Wolves comes from an eponymous poem by Sorley MacLean. In many respects, the piece is not unlike Cors de chasse in that it, too, implies an endless quest (or hunt) which unfolds in a clear narration. In the case of Dogs and Wolves, the narration may be more closely linked to that suggested by the poem which, however, is more about the quest for beauty and eternal love. The restless opening climbs to what the composer describes as a plateau where smaller ensembles have their own say. The climax is followed by a calmer, almost static section after which the restless chase is resumed heading towards the abrupt conclusion.

Hellawell’s music may be complex in conception but the end result is never intractable. It is often quite beautiful and accessible, especially when played with zest and commitment as here. This is a splendid release that does this very distinguished composer’s music full justice.

Hubert Culot

Hellawell’s music on Metronome
Sound Carvings - Metronome METCD1029
Inside Story - Metronome METCD1059



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