Although he may be best known for his orchestral music and his
works for ensemble, Simon Holt also composed piano music and
still does. This is not that surprising since he is a pianist.
The present release is devoted to piano works composed between
1984 and 2004, thus encompassing some twenty years of his composing
career. In the meantime, Holt has composed yet another piano
work, a book of shadow
(2005) that has been omitted
from this disc.
Holt’s works very often bear an evocative title that sheds
some light on the music’s content or on some subliminal
idea that triggered the composition. His music, however, is neither
descriptive nor programmatic. Thus Tauromaquia
been inspired by Goya’s series of studies of the same name
depicting bullfighting and particularly one portraying the death
of a celebrated bullfighter José Delgado. The music, appropriately
enough, alternates energetic sections to be played “with
great bravura and at all times a knife-edge intensity and power”.
The piece ends with a cortège for the bullfighter Delgado.
The five movements that make up a book of colours
composed between 1988 and 1993. The starting point was Duendecitos
composed as a short 80th
birthday tribute to Sir William
Glock. Holt then decided to add further pieces to make a set
of pieces that might - to some extent - be compared to or suggest
some of Debussy’s Preludes
in that their
evocative titles clearly hints at some features of the music.
The rather black humour of Duendecitos
- again inspired
by an etching by Goya showing a group of lecherous, dwarfish
monks - starkly contrasts with the delicately chiselled Figurine
follows. A shapeless flame
and Some distant chimes
both composed in 1992 - form a contrasted diptych. The final
movement The thing that makes ashes
(a euphemism used
by certain African tribe to describe fire) is some sort of summing-up
of the entire cycle.
An ‘insect snuff movie’ as the composer describes
it Klop’s Last Bite
is in ten epigrammatic
movements that trace out an action-packed scenario - “a
battle between a bed bug called Klop and a mad, marauding flea,
which all ends rather tragically”. The most remarkable
thing about this fine piece is the way with which a maximum is
achieved with a minimum of means, the mark of a true master.
Though not conceived as such, Black Lanterns
in 1984 as a 50th
birthday tribute to Harrison Birtwistle
composed in 1994 as a 60th
tribute to Peter Maxwell Davies might also be regarded as a pair
for “each starts out from an obsessive fascination with
an oscillating semitone before venturing into far more bravura
territory”. These pieces as well as the other recorded
here are quite virtuosic but also require a good deal of musicianship,
and needless to say that Rolf Hind possesses both technique and
musicianship in plenty.
Holt’s music may be complex - at least from the performer’s
standpoint - but never extravagantly so; and his piano music
makes its full impact without ever resorting to any of the all-too-often
used ‘gimmicks’ of contemporary writing for piano.
This is beautiful music superbly and most idiomatically written
for the instrument that generously repays repeated hearings.
I must also mention that while preparing this review I unashamedly
plundered Andrew Clements’s well-informed insert notes.
Holt’s music has been rather well-served by NMC so far
since this disc is their third release devoted to his music.
Now they owe us another disc (or more) with some of his orchestral
The present release confirms Holt’s status as one of the
most endearing composers of his generation. This magnificent
release will undoubtedly be on my list of Recordings of the