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Editorial Board
Classical Editor
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Contact: Bill Meek

William Rhys MEEK (b. 1963)
On Salisbury Plain – Music for Piano (2008)
Bromus erectus [3:00]
Echium vulgare [1:36]
Dark Green Fritillary [2:20]
Briza media [0:42]
Orchids on Cheverell Hill [1:22]
Centaurea scabiosa [0:47]
Thymus and Sanguisorba [2:20]
Heatwave with distant fire [2:06]
Night sweeping [2:54]
Moths to light [1:13]
Cirsium tuberosum [1:13]
On Haxton Down [3:26]
Orobanche elatior [1:08]
Dust devil [2:00]
By the Avon [2:13]
At Imber [4:12]
William Rhys Meek (piano)
rec. Lincolnshire, 22 May 2008. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

Having taken us on a spellbinding “Fenland Journey” through the lowlands of eastern England on his debut solo recital of his own compositions, Bill - as he is known to his friends - now turns his attention to the genius loci of another iconic British landscape – Salisbury Plain. Taking much of his inspiration from the flora and fauna of the locale, and, as he hints at in the booklet notes, the English pastoral tradition - although to these ears more of the maverick Moeran/Ireland/Bax axis than the no less impressive but more understated approach of, say, a Howells. In this respect, I find Bill’s music one that sits equally well alongside my longstanding appreciation of the output of labels like ECM and Touch as much as anything conventionally classical. The spirits of Ravel and Debussy are also a given. There’s even a glimmer of Charles Ives, who Bill, his younger brother Steve and indeed myself continue to find such an inspiration (as does the great John Adams! I am just as much reminded of ex-Cabaret Voltaire, turned BBC sound recordist Renaissance man Chris Watson. Watson’s first disc for the aforesaid Touch (Stepping Into the Dark) has booklet quotes from ur-psychogeographer Tom Lethbridge in an attempt to explain the magic inherent in the CD’s contents. 

So to the actual music! Half the sixteen tracks carry the scientific or common appellations of their inspirations. The other half reference spatial and/or temporal experiences of the Plain. These somehow echo John Ireland’s works composed in thrall to the not so distant “memoried” places of the South Downs - think Amberley Wild Brooks or, especially, the orchestral, Arthur Machen-inspired Legend. The stately opening Bromus erectus leads on to the more impressionistic, even almost romantic Echium vulgare with Kenneth Leighton at the piano rather than Rachmaninov! The Dark Green Fritillary flutters beautifully through the next flowing piece until the delicate Briza (should it be brevia?) media makes for the shortest of acquaintances. Cheverell Hill is the first place to be actually named and fittingly its music seems quintessentially English. Another brief floral interlude leads on to the gorgeous, rippling rhythms of Thymus and Sanguisorba but the wonderful Heatwave with Distant Fire is something else again - more Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans than any more obvious antecedents. The following Nightsweeping has a supple melodicism to it whereas Moths to Light again impeccably treads the fine line between jazz and JS. Cirsium tuberosum is a shorter, softer companion to the opening “broom” but back On Haxton Down the English pastoral tradition reasserts itself - albeit more in the sense of John Tilbury playing Howard Skempton than Parkin playing Moeran. Orobanche elatior reminds me, sat writing this in south-east Spain the day after the worst storms in many years here, of the quietude of the Catalan composer Mompou - especially in his Musica Callada. Dust Devil is possibly the most virtuosic piece on the disc, especially in terms of its pace, and melodic with it. The CD ends with two beautiful and contrasting impressionistic musical landscapes. By the Avon is just how you imagine it should be - an instrumental companion to Finzi’s setting of Overlooking the River Stour, well over half a century down the line. At Imber has the feel of a majestic but restrained hymnody).

Overall, a real triumph whichever way you look at it. This music deserves and demands a wider audience.

Neil Horner



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