Until I received these discs for review,
Graham Fitkin was just a name. I remembered the name because
some of his music was at one time available on two Argo CDs
neither of which I have heard. The present opportunity to hear
some of his music is most welcome, the more so because it turned
out to be both attractive and enjoyable.
The first of these
discs is devoted to some his piano music, and includes four
pieces for two pianos/eight hands as well as several shorter
pieces for solo piano. In his concise notes, the composer states
that “the first four tracks, for four people on two pianos,
are on the brighter, more exuberant side ... the remainder are
more introspective, intimate works for solo piano”.
In fact, the four
pieces for two pianos/eight hands are joyfully animated with
tricky exuberant rhythmic writing. I hope I may be forgiven
for saying that the music often reminded me of Milhaud’s pieces
for multiple pianos, such as Scaramouche and Le
Bal martiniquais. The dancing rhythms of the music are
tricky and spiced with mild dissonance. The composer joined
by friends and fellow composers in these performances enjoys
himself enormously and so do we.
The other pieces
for solo piano are all short and straightforward. As the composer
mentions, the music is restrained and often dreamy and meditative.
None of these miniatures outstays its welcome. The suite The
Cone Gatherers, drawn from incidental music for a play
based on Robin Jenkins’ eponymous novel, is a fairly substantial
and rather more serious work.
The pieces on the second disc are for ensemble.
On the whole, the music shares characteristics with the pieces
for piano. It is often based on repetition and ostinatos, moves
forward with energy, but is not minimalist in the same sense
as, say, Steve Reich’s or Riley’s. Neither does it completely
compare with Louis Andriessen’s hard-edged Minimalism. The first
work Bed gives a good idea of what to expect.
There is much propulsive energy here, but none of the often
more aggressive sharpness of Andriessen’s music. Some of the
works are fairly short, although the rather oddly titled Ironic
is a substantial piece in three movements (fast-slow-fast) using
similar material, albeit viewed from different angles. Turning
is a beautifully atmospheric Nocturne. Hard as I tried, I was
not able to spot the material from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony
worked into the short, brilliant Beethoven 7,
but it does not really matter for this is a rumbustious encore
of great verve.
Graham Fitkin’s music is straightforward,
rhythmically alert, colourful and – most importantly – refreshingly
unpretentious. Again, some bits must be awfully tricky to play
but these players obviously enjoy themselves enormously and
play with all their heart. My sole regret is that the playing
time of these discs is on the short side.
I look forward to hearing more Fitkin soon,
and will in the meantime return to these discs for some fresh