> EMSLEY Helter-Skelter etc [HC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard EMSLEY (born 1951)
Helter-Skelter (1981)
Flow Form (1987)a
For piano 3 (1997)a
...from swerve of shore to bend of bay... (1985)
finnissys fifty (1996)a
for guitar 1 (1998)b
for piano 2 (1997)a
The Juniper Tree (1981)c
Ian Pace (piano)a; Alan Thomas (guitar)b; Claire Lesser (soprano)c; Topologies (Nancy Ruffer, flutes; Christopher Redgate, oboes; Julian Warburton, percussion; Guy Cowley, clarinets; Bridget Casey, viola; Betsy Taylor, cello; Mikel Toms, conductor)
Recorded: Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, May 2000 (piano works), August 2000 (for guitar 1), October 2000 (Helter-Skelter), October 2000 (...from swerve of shore...) and Vestry Hall, London, December 2000 (The Juniper Tree)
METIER MSV CD 92044 [75:29]


The earlier works in this selection were both written in 1981 but are very different in many respects. Helter-Skelter, for a Feldmanesque ensemble of flute, vibraphone and piano, moves fairly slowly throughout, the three instrumental lines following each its independent course with little if any synchronisation, hence the title. The piece however is fairly contemplative. In total contrast, The Juniper Tree for soprano and four players (flutes [1 player], oboes [1 player], percussion and piano) is based on one of Grimm’s "goriest" tales. The music here is relentlessly violent, almost frantically so, and terribly demanding. A quite impressive achievement in its own right, though it is a difficult piece to come to terms with.

...from swerve of shore to bend of bay... (1985) for small mixed ensemble is yet another contemporary work of art inspired by Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. Again the music is very active and tests the performers to the extreme. (It was composed for the Fires of London.) The piece is overflowing with relentless activity suggesting furiously overlapping waves.

All the other pieces are for a solo instrument, either piano or guitar. Flow Form (1987) for piano, which gives this release its collective title, is a beautiful study in fluid piano textures, whereas for piano 2 and for piano 3, both from 1997, are to a certain extent more experimental, i.e. from the formal point of view, and have much in common with for guitar 1 (1998). These pieces have much sparser textures with fairly long pauses between the various episodes, but are remarkably written for the instruments. Finnissys fifty (1996) is a short homage to Michael Finnissy on his fiftieth birthday, and is comparatively much simpler.

This release is a typical METIER product offering a fairly comprehensive composer’s portrait performed by dedicated players who have long been involved in Emsley’s demanding but thought-provoking music. No light easy stuff, but well worth the effort.

Hubert Culot

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