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Kenneth HESKETH (b. 1968)
A Rhyme for the Season (2007) [4:41]
Ein Lichtspiel (after Moholy-Nagy) (2006) [11:53]
Graven Image [2007] [14:58]
Wunderkammer (konzert) (2008) [21:57]
At God speeded summer’s end (2000) [10:57]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Christoph-Mathias Mueller (A Rhyme for the Season, Graven Image and At God speeded summer’s end) Ensemble 10/10/ Clark Rundell (Ein Lichtspiel and Wunderkammer)
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 13 July 2012 (Graven Image, A Rhyme for the Season and At God speeded summer’s end) and Liverpool Philharmonic at the Friary, West Everton, 12 June 2009 (Ein Lichtspiel and Wunderkammer (konzert)
NMC NMCD186 [65:01]

Until very recently, recordings of Kenneth Hesketh’s music were disappointingly thin on the ground. Encouragingly, however, this impressive survey of five of his pivotal works for orchestra and large ensemble comes hot on the heels of another Hesketh CD. The latter is fine recording showcasing several of the Liverpudlian’s most significant chamber works played by Psappha. 

Now aged 44, Hesketh has been creatively active across many genres but it is his instrumental works that display his talent at its most striking. The considerable surface complexity of his elaborate rhythmic invention is unfailingly refracted through a remarkably acute ear for sonority and colour allied with an obsessive preoccupation with textural transparency.
To a greater or lesser degree these are factors present in all five of these compelling works. Also evident is a gradual refinement and honing of these skills, from At God speeded summer’s end, the earliest piece dating from 2000, to Wunderkammer (konzert) of 2008, which reaches new levels of intricacy and represents the pinnacle of Hesketh’s instrumental output to date.
Written for the BBC Philharmonic, there are fleeting glimpses of Oliver Knussen discernible in the opening bars of the Dylan Thomas-inspired At God speeded summer’s end. Taking as its starting point Thomas’s Prologue (Collected Poems 1934-1953) in which the second verse of the poem rhymes backwards with the first, Hesketh creates a dramatic, predominantly fast-paced orchestral soundscape. Here the structure of the poem is subjected to a musical reworking in which words are sometimes quite literally set in instrumental terms. The principal melodic and rhythmic ideas are constantly transformed in an ever evolving and shifting orchestral backdrop.
In not dissimilar fashion, A Rhyme for the Season also draws on the composer’s fascination with the parallels between the metrical complexities and syntax of the poetic spoken word and the rhythmic language of music.
The origins of the word ‘rhyme’, derived from the ancient Frankish word ‘rim’, provide the inspiration for a fleeting, extrovert showpiece. Constantly mutating rhythmic motifs are tossed around the orchestra in an exhilarating, texturally vertiginous showpiece, the sheer drive of which only falters in the last bars as the orchestral machine suddenly and unexpectedly stutters to a percussive halt.
Ein Lichtspiel (after Moholy-Nagy), one of two works for large chamber forces on the recording, is a musical exploration of a short film (translated as Lightplay, black-white-grey) by the Hungarian constructivist artist Moholy-Nagy, a professor at the Bauhaus School.
Here the subject is the recorded changes in light and movement created by a motor driven, kinetic sculpture of the artist’s own design and these form the basis for his material. This constructivist concept is a gift for a composer of Hesketh’s sharply defined colouristic imagination. Each of the three continuous sections - Vorspiel, Nachtstücke and Postludium - explores differing facets of music that teems with restless, coruscating detail.
At just short of twenty-two minutes, the longest work is also the piece that leaves the most powerful and thought-provoking impression. It is also the toughest of the five to access in full on first hearing.
Wunderkammer (konzert), is in essence a highly virtuosic chamber concerto drawing on a wide range of external influences. These include the concept of the Wunderkammer, a Pandora’s Box of material curiosities, memory theatre and memento mori. Hesketh takes these as a basis for his seething, constantly mutating thematic material.
What intrigues most about this work is the sense of a deeply personal undercurrent at play throughout. It is an undercurrent that is often expressed in music of extreme gestural complexity, simultaneously co-existing with a vein of profound expression that underpins what is arguably the composer’s most emotionally ambitious work to date.
Hinting strongly at an autobiographical subtext the composer confronts both his own mortality and at the same time bares his innermost soul to scrutiny. Each of the three continuous movements carries a significant title, The Grand Ordo of Hephaestus’ Children, Karakuri in the Temple of Athene and Escapements within the Cartesian Machine. Elements of thematic and gestural conflict and resolution are ever-present in music that weaves a deeply embedded metaphorical web.
Graven Image, written for the 2008 Proms, shares several of the same structural and aesthetic preoccupations of Wunderkammer in its exploration of differing facets of the words ‘graven’ and ‘image’, along with symbols associated with the memento mori. Here however there is a greater emphasis on openly coalescing melodic strands.
From an opening of ghostly, crepuscular textures embellished with tolling bells, the material ultimately transforms into a swirling, driven mass of orchestral energy. This serves as potent testimony to the composer’s aforementioned ear for beguiling, carefully honed orchestral colour and transparency.
All five works are given intensely committed advocacy from the RLPO under the young Swiss conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller. The excellent Ensemble 10/10 directed by American émigré Clark Rundell are no less skilled. The latter bring penetrating sincerity to Wunderkammer (konzert), a work that presents the individual players with daunting musical and technical challenges.
The outcome represents a compelling panorama of Kenneth Hesketh’s works for major instrumental forces.
Christopher Thomas