William Rhys Meek, the Lincolnshire-born son of English
folk veteran Bill Meek (The Broadside etc.), studied at Leeds College
of Music in the 1980s (during the same period I was at Sheffield University
with his younger brother Stephen), going on to write themes for television,
alongside his own highly personal piano music. He now lives and works
in "the fen country", its open skies and countless waterways a direct
inspiration for much of the music on this excellent, privately produced
The brief but informative booklet notes highlight Meek's
ability to combine harmonic complexity with a keen ear for both melody
and rhythm. They also mention Satie and Ravel as influences, while noting
the composer's admiration (one shared with this listener) for Charles
Ives. While I would acknowledge this, other key voices are revealed
as kindred spirits as the CD progresses; Rosa is almost pure
Satie but two tracks later, The Spire had me reaching for Eric
Parkin's groundbreaking survey of E.J. Moeran's piano works (JMS records).
The titles given to the twenty seven short pieces (nothing over three
minutes) are highly evocative and very tuned in to the "English pastoral/landscape
tradition"; musically, the sequence consisting of Cloudburst,
Straw Bear and Queen Anne's Lace, is one of the most varied
yet strongest on the disc. The lilting Straw Bear is, to these
ears, very Graingeresque, whereas Queen… wouldn't be out of place
on a much more recent classic, Roger Eno's Between Tides.
The record as a whole lives and breathes the air of
one of the few remaining corners of England which is still relatively
lightly populated; I am reminded of past visits to the empty Lincolnshire
coastline close to the composer's childhood home (looking out to the
sand forts at Donna Nook, birdwatching at lonely Gibraltar Point) and
accompanying my late mother as she searched for her ancestral roots
around the virtually deserted area which borders the rivers Trent and
Humber and their confluence. The music goes on to display a kinship
with composers past and present, Howard Skempton and John Ireland would
both feel at home with at least some of the characteristics on display
here. Meek's music has a wonderful sense (spirit?) of place, Coltsfoot,
Demoiselles, and The Lapwing's Nest could only have been
written by someone with a very specific grounding in nature and a strong
feeling for their landscape (just as much as Ireland in Amberley
Wild Brooks, The Island Spell or even the classic Sarnia).
Even so, there are some almost Bachian sequences (Whirligig?),
filtered through Finzi, perhaps, but there nonetheless.
I have mentioned several possible antecedents but this
music is, in the final analysis, both very personal and stylistically
consistent. This disc is a tribute to the vision and integrity of an
artist/composer who deserves a wider hearing. It has fired the visual
side of my imaginative memory as much as any music in recent times,
obviously through some personal connection with the places it was inspired
by, but also in a much wider sense of it representing an aspect of rural
Britain that sadly appears to say and mean very little to the majority
but to me remains an absolute treasure. Something that made me remember,
out of the blue, fifteen years on, a slate grey hen harrier hovering
over a winter reed bed is indeed very special and something to be cherished.
All in all, this is both a superb achievement and a
fulfilling listening experience, fully deserving of an unequivocal recommendation.
The disc can be obtained direct by contacting the composer at firstname.lastname@example.org
From the Bulletin Board
Thanks to Neal Horner for a perceptive and valuable
review of William Rhys Meek's privately produced CD of piano works.
Inspired by Mr. Horner's review, I contacted the composer to purchase
a copy of the cd. He sent it to me posthaste, and I can only concur
most strongly with Mr. Horner's recommendation. I believe anyone who
likes the piano music of Ireland or Virgil Thomson, Ravel or William
Gillock, will enjoy this music tremendously. But it has a lyrical yet
objective quality of its own that is very special, and reminded me in
places of the best Japanese music. A wonderful find!