The composer announces
right at the beginning of his booklet
notes that he has been very fortunate
"to work with musicians of artistic
distinction and integrity". He
goes on to add that "the pianists
featured in these recordings demonstrate
this with supreme artistry and virtuosity".
I can add no more to his well-pronounced
accolades except to tell you a little
about the music and about the composer.
Edwin Roxburgh is known
both as a composer and as a virtuoso
international oboist having many first
performances of concertos and chamber
works especially written with him in
mind. His own extensive catalogue includes
much music for oboe including the moving
‘Lament’ for oboe and strings of 2003.
Each work here is performed
by a different pianist; some are pupils
or have been pupils of the composer
at the Royal College of Music where
he is a well-known teacher.
Thalia Myers is a really
experienced exponent of contemporary
piano music, not least that of Roxburgh
himself but who, touchingly, has recorded
the first set of pieces for children,
four in all which are entitled somewhat
pretentiously I feel ‘Les Miroirs de
Miro’. I have seen these myself in the
Associated Board syllabus. This first
set is aimed more at children, the second
set ‘Two Pieces’ for the adult pianist
of a slightly higher and more demanding
standard. These two pieces are played
by Sally Mays and have the impressionist
titles ‘Hallowe’en’ and the evocative
But it’s the ‘Six Etudes’
which are for me the highlight of this
CD. They are freely atonal and terrifically
exciting at times, quiet and distant
at others. The opening Etude contrasts
heavy chords with gushing upward scales
using the entire instrument. Little
dotted rhythmic figures reminded me
of Messiaen’s bird-calls popping out
of the textures. As soon as it’s over
something approaching a pokey little
atonal two-part invention strikes up;
this Etude being marked ‘Flautando,
leggiero’. Its successor reiterates
a high repeated chord. Pointilistically,
it continues with textures scattered
across the keyboard before building
to an impressive climax. All six Etudes
exude total compositional confidence
and a wide variety of daring textures.
The final piece is a coruscating two
minute show-piece with Ligetian cross-rhythms
in contrary motion contrasting with
fanfare figures which just arrest the
movement for a moment. These rank as
the finest produced by any Englishman,
and are well worth the study.
The Piano Sonata is
the longest work on the disc and need
considerable powers of concentration
from the listener as well as from the
pianist. Like most of these pieces this
is virtuoso music. Here it is Peter
O’Hagan, who knows Roxburgh’s demands
very well now after many years of playing
his music, who is the marvel. The three
movements are played without a break
with intensity and passion - the finale
is marked ‘Appassionato’. There are
moments of relaxation even romanticism,
and if you think that at times it sounds
almost like Alban Berg as I did at about
three minutes in, then, as the composer
tells us, the piece is based on a three
note motif found in Berg’s Three Orchestral
Pieces: B natural, G sharp and G natural.
Curious that they should conjure up
the soundworld so immediately. Like
the other pieces the language is freely
atonal and dense: rhythmically highly
complex and demanding the full array
of the keyboard.
The opening work on
the disc appears actually to be called,
if the composer’s notes are to be understood
‘Hommage to Debussy’ for piano duet.
Its third movement is ‘Reflets dans
la glace’, the title giving its name
to the CD. The textures here are, in
movements 1 and 3, very Messiaenic,
even down to great cavernous silences
in movement three. The middle movement
uses, you might say, what Debussy-would-have-written-were-he-alive-now
kind of textures; very kaleidoscopic,
fearsomely virtuoso and fast.
The least interesting
piece is the earliest and it concludes
the disc: the ‘Introduction and Arabesques’.
It is there for completeness and offers
us a more rounded picture of the composer’s
considerable achievements. Its ideas
are less arresting and more formalized.
The composer being in his mid-twenties
when writing it, has mannerisms rather
than passion and is concerned more with
the style of the times than with communicating
With the ‘Prelude and
Toccata’ the composer admits to attempt
to "rejuvenate a classical form"
with "stillness in the Prelude,
while the Toccata…..gradually speeds
up into a fiery finale of virtuosic
intensity". Originally written
for Thalia Myers it is tackled brilliantly
here by Karl Lutchmayer.
That leaves us with
‘Labyrinth’, and another Debussy connection.
In 1970 Richard Burnett played the First
Book of Preludes at the Wigmore Hall.
This work was meant to accompany it,
and, to a certain extent show-off the
Bösendorfer Imperial Grand which
contains a nine-note extension to bottom
C. Roxburgh exploits this, nevertheless
the work also has a liquid impressionist
quality, especially near the beginning.
The music descends from the upper register
to the lower, going as it were, into
the Labyrinth. George King studied with
Roxburgh at the Royal College and the
composer adds that King’s "technique
and imagination fully realize the delicacy
and passion of the piece."
All of the pianists
are superb and the recording seems to
be ideally balanced and made in an entirely
To sum up ... This
disc, which comes with notes by the
composer and biographies of each of
the nine pianists is an impressive achievement
by all concerned although many might
find the music a little too consistent
in style, despite the brief didactic
pieces. Personally I yearn for more
warmth in the music but there are moments
here of great delicacy and fragile beauty,
as well as passion, intensity and power.