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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
strong>Philip HAMMOND (b. 1951)
Miniatures & Modulations (2011  2013)
Michael McHale (piano)
rec. Irish Chamber Orchestra Studio, Limerick University, Ireland, 2013
GRAND PIANO GP702 [76:50]

The twenty-one short pieces that make up Philip Hammond's Miniatures & Modulations are inspired by the melodies collected and arranged in "The Ancient Music of Ireland" by Edward Bunting.

This calls for a bit of explanation which I will shamelessly plunder from the composer's own insert notes. Edward Bunting (17731843) was born in Co. Armagh. He was trained in classical music first by his elder brother and later apprenticed in Belfast to an organist called William Ware. He became known in the gentrified society of Belfast as a teacher. Nevertheless he earned his living as an organist and also as a concert promoter. He thus organised a great music festival in 1813 when a large portion of Handel's Messiah was performed for the first time in Belfast. What, however, is of interest as far as Philip Hammond's large-scale piano cycle is concerned, is that Bunting was engaged to annotate and record all the music he heard at the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792. At that time some people feared that the aural tradition of Irish harp music and harp playing was in danger of being lost forever. Incidentally, the 1792 festival was the last of its kind which adds some considerable importance to Bunting's job at the time. Afterwards he continued collecting other folk material. He eventually had three volumes of "Ancient Irish Music" published respectively in 1796, 1809 and 1840. These volumes in total contain well over three hundred tunes.

Things being what they were, Bunting dutifully arranged his material for the Piano Forte although he really desired to be as authentic as possible. One would have to wait for Percy Grainger to arrange folk tunes in a less adorned manner. The fact is that without Bunting and his arrangements a treasure trove of traditional Irish music would have been lost.

Now to Philip Hammond's Miniatures & Modulations. The first item of the cycle to be written was Open the Door Softly (track 16) composed to mark the retirement of a colleague. Then Hammond started studying Bunting's volumes more closely so that by 2011 or so he had completed fifteen pieces to which he later added another six in 2013. The twenty-one pieces are what can be heard here. The 'miniatures' of the title are a more or less straight statement of the folk tune. By contrast the 'modulation' implies some sort of variation, arrangement or even digression on the basic tune or parts of it or even of the accompaniment, or part of it, devised by Bunting. All this amounts to a hugely varied cycle of generally short though often demanding pieces. Needless to say, Michael McHale rises superbly to every challenge, musical and technical. Incidentally he had already recorded two of these pieces in his earlier recital ("The Irish Piano"  RTI lyric fm CD139): John O'Reilly the Active (track 7) and the concluding item here, the boisterous The Beardless Boy (track 21).

I have listened repeatedly to this most enjoyable release for pleasure's sake for this is a really quite attractive disc. It can be taken in whole or in part since there is apparently no fixed order in which the pieces have to be played. Some, I am sure, would make superb encores: I think of The Beardless Boy but there are others.

Hubert Culot

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