John PITTS (b.1976)
Changes for 20 nifty fingers [3:04]
Toccata - Blue Frenzy [9:41]
Air 1 - Gentle Interweaving [3:34]
Fantasia 1 - Clockwork 5/4 [3:23]
Air 2 - After Satie [3:06]
Fantasia 2 - On the Westminster Chimes (for prepared piano) [4:11]
Air 3 - On an anagram [4:17]
Fantasia 3 - Parallel Octaves [5:18]
Air 4 - Sarabande [3:49]
Fantasia 4 - Wind Chimes [8:18]
Air 5 - Calmly Contented [3:57]
Fantasia 5 - Bells in 9/8 [3:38]
Air 6 - Modal Twist [4:11]
Fantasia 6 - Half-Second-Hand [5:33]
Air 7 - Cantabile Mist [5:56]
Fantasia 7 - All in a chord [5:54]
Steven Kings (piano); John Pitts (piano: Changes)
rec. Aug. 2008, Auditorium, Victoria Rooms, Bristol
CD.TP IPM08 [77:49]
I was a little nervous about the words "intensely pleasant music" which were repeated several times over the disc case and the booklet. It smelled of Richard Clayderman. However, don't worry: it is not intensely pleasant music, it is just good. What a relief.
The opening piece must be a counting nightmare for the two pianists: they are supposed to play overlapping bars of 14 vs. 15 quavers. But what a splendid result! It's as if Prokofiev's Toccata was rewritten by Steve Reich: rolling at you like a rollercoaster. Probably, this rolling effect is created by the unequal bar partitions - a perpetuum instabile, like Brahms' 2-to-3. It was hard to stop listening to it in "Repeat" mode and move on to the second piece.
Blue Frenzy is another toccata. This time it's not just a one-trick thing like the first one, but a multifaceted construction. The composer expertly works with motivic cells. Ten minutes pass as one: episodes are well measured, with times to ride and times to rest. Relentless ever-changing rhythm and jazzy harmonies propel the music forward.
Finally, there is the set of seven pairs of Airs & Fantasias. Brahms would probably call them Intermezzos and Capriccios, although in character they are closer to Debussy's Préludes (or, as is the case with Air 3, to Chopin's). As the insert notes put it, "The airs are essentially melody-dominated, and the fantasias are pieces in free form with a minimalistic use of repeated and rotating patterns". The Fantasias often explore the clock-bell-chime soundworld (just look at their titles), but this is well separated by more "horizontal" Airs. There are many pleasant discoveries - melodic, rhythmic, sonic - but almost no standard or predictable moves or clichés - at least, for me. The listener doesn't have to work hard to get into the music: a kind of minimalistic "submerge and relax" attitude will definitely do the trick. This is a colorful and interesting set by a talented composer. And if harmony is your thing, you'll find much to admire here.
The playing of Steven Kings is technically and emotionally perfect. It is dry enough to convey the youthful, fresh character of the music, yet not too dry, and so the music preserves all the lyricism and the crispiness. One minor thing, though: some moments seemed over-pedalled. The recording, mastered by Jonathan Scott, is very spacious. No: it's four-dimensional. You can almost see the notes materializing in the air. All in all, this is a rewarding disc. Well... intensely pleasant. But in a good sense!
see also review by John France and Jonathan Woolf