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
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toccata-like flurries with slower, somewhat withdrawn episodes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.
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
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