Jonathan HARVEY (b. 1939)
Works for Piano – Works for Flute and Piano: Nataraja (1983) [11:02]; Run Before Lightning (2004) [7:35]; Tombeau de Messiaen (1994) [08:41]; Vers (2000) [02:46]; ff (1995) [02:16]; Homage to Cage, à Chopin (und Ligeti ist auch dabei) (1998) [01:40]; Haiku (1997) [00:19]; Four Images After Yeats (1969) [23:30]
Florian Hoelscher (piano); Pirmin Grehl (flute)
rec. 10-11 September 2007 and 23-25 July 2008, MDR Studio, Augustenplatz, Leipzig, Germany. DDD
NEOS 10828 [58:11]

The disc opens with the explosive piccolo and piano beginning of Nataraja, a dramatic piece which refers to the four-armed Indian God (also known as Shiva). The piece uses flute and piccolo, with moments of calm interspersed with active dance figurations. The influences of both Indian culture and the bird-song writing of Messiaen are detectable, as well as Harvey’s interest in electronic music, which can be heard through some of the uses of extended techniques and textures. Run Before Lightning, Harvey’s most recent flute work, was composed in 2004 as a competition test-piece. The stormy opening creates a dark atmosphere, demonstrating Harvey’s imagination for orchestration. The centre of the piece is calmer and more reflective, but elements of the storm return before the end. Both these works demonstrate a real understanding of the instruments for which they are written. They are performed with vigour and excellence by these players. Primin Grahl’s flute playing is assured, expressive and controlled, with a dazzling technique and silky tone. I’d like to hear more from this young, talented player.

Tombeau de Messiaen is perhaps one of Harvey’s most well-known piano pieces, extending the instrument’s range of sound with an electronics part of modified piano sounds. The music strays further from the concept of a traditional piano piece as it develops and the eerie sound of the electronics is allowed to take over. This is an interesting work which shows with much success one of the possible approaches to writing for a live instrument and electronics.

Four short pieces follow. Vers is an expressive work which combines sumptuous harmonies with dramatic dance-like figurations to create a well-formed and fascinating miniature. ff is a loud and fast work which makes wide use of the overtone series. The work’s driving energy alternates between syncopated chords and accented, toccata-like bass sections. The Homage to Cage, à Chopin (und Ligeti ist auch dabei) is another short work which pays tribute to some of the leading composers of piano repertoire. Again possessing the feel of a toccata, Chopin’s music is played in the style of Cage on a prepared piano, combined with Harvey’s own compositional style. The nineteen second long Haiku is made up of seventeen notes, which are allowed to combine to form a chord, in a moment of elegance and poise.

The final work on the disc is Four Images after Yeats for solo piano. This is a four movement tour-de-force, composed in 1969. Various composers are quoted through the work, including Bach, Mozart, Scriabin and others. Harvey incorporates these sounds entirely into his own work, and the influence of his teacher, Milton Babbitt, is also subtly present. Although complex in terms of harmony and texture, the music is deeply expressive, and I find the style fascinating rather than distracting. One never has the sense here that the music is difficult for academic effect; at the heart lies a sort of romanticism, with an emotional message to be conveyed.

Florian Hoelscher gives Harvey’s music some wonderfully emotive communication, finding the poetic nature of the writing and bringing that to the listening audience. His playing is polished and well controlled, without losing a sense of naturalness or humanity, and one has the feeling that his excellent technique serves primarily to enable him to express the essence of the music.

This is a world-class performance of some magnificent repertoire from some very exciting players. Harvey’s music works on many different levels, from the intellectual to the emotional, and the music has clearly captured the imagination of these performers. Their enthusiasm is infectious, creating an unmissable disc.

Carla Rees