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Piano Music from Northern Ireland
Philip HAMMOND (b. 1951)
African Black (1993) [4:33]
Ho Hum Hill NH (2001) [7:05]
The island beyond the world (2001) [10:26]
Alan MILLS (b. 1964)
Night-music (1987) [3:13]
Reproductions (2002) [9:30]
Eibhlis FARRELL (b. 1953)
Time drops (1988) [9:14]
Deirdre MCKAY (b. 1971)
Time, shining (1998) [9:56]
David BYERS (b. 1947)
Echoes of survival (2004) [3:59]
David Quigley (piano)
rec. Wathen Hall, St Paul’s School, London, September 2005
LORELT LNT 122 [58:01]

 


This release may be considered a sequel to a slightly earlier Lorelt disc (“Music from Northern Ireland” – LNT 117) that I reviewed some time ago (see review). It offers a fine survey of piano music by several composers from Northern Ireland.

Philip Hammond has the lion’s share with three hugely varied works composed over the last ten years or so. African Black is the central panel of a triptych, of which the other panels are French Blue (1990) and Irish Green (1994). All three may be played separately. The music of African Black, based on an African tune, is propelled by powerful, energetic ostinati and calls for considerable virtuosity. This is the sort of work that should be popular with pianists and audiences alike, were it heard more often. A brilliant, effective piece of piano writing. Ho Hum Hill NH - a piece written when the composer was on holiday in New Hampshire - is another attractive sketch full of Coplandesque turns of phrase, syncopations and harmonies. The island beyond the world is a more serious and substantial work - actually the longest single item here. The music is predominantly slow and intensely meditative. It is marked Very slow and intense, almost static, but with careful, subtle expression. David Quigley rises to the challenge. Incidentally the title comes from a quote from a text attributed to St. Isaac of Syria and was suggested to the composer by John Tavener.

Alan Mills’ Night-music is an early, fairly traditional, work that might bring Bartók’s ‘Night Music’ pieces to mind, but that is rather reminiscent of Jack Moeran and John Ireland: a delightful miniature. His more recent Reproductions is a suite of nicely made character pieces paying oblique homage to older composers (Grieg, Liszt, Coleridge-Taylor and Chabrier). It does this without ever falling into the all-too-easy trap of pastiche or parody. The music, although sometimes tinged with mild irony, never actually quotes these composers.

“My work is essentially linear, woven through a web-like structure of melodic cells”. These words by Eibhlis Farrell perfectly sums up what to expect from her piece Time drops. Here the music alternates toccata-like flurries with slower, somewhat withdrawn episodes - with – to my ears – some discreet playing on the piano’s strings. An attractive, atmospheric piece.

Deirdre McKay’s name and music were completely new to me. She is the youngest composer represented here. She studied with John Casken, Kevin Volans and Piers Hellawell. Her Time, shining paints a mostly meditative winter landscape, the monotony of which is briefly dispelled by sharp interjections. A very fine work that makes me curious to hear more of her music.

David Byers, almost the Grand Old Man here - he was born in 1947! - studied at Queen’s University, Belfast and at the Royal Academy of Music as well as with Henri Pousseur in my home town, Liège. His Echoes of survival is described as “a sort of palimpsest with several layers of juxtaposed musical thoughts”. It may be the most modern sounding work in this cross-section, though never intractably so.

None of the pieces in this neatly balanced, pleasantly varied, expertly played and well recorded programme aims at plumbing any great depths. All are well made, often attractive and clearly deserve more than the occasional hearing. Each of them could – and should – be heard more often. I enjoyed this selection from first to last. My sole regret is the rather meagre playing time, which would have allowed the inclusion of more pieces by these or other composers. Hammond’s French Blue and Irish Green could have been included as well as some piano music by the conspicuously absent Ian Wilson. These minor reservations should not deter anyone from investigating this most welcome release.

Hubert Culot

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