A Land So Luminous
Kenneth HESKETH (b.1968)
A Land So Luminous * (2003) [10.44]
Cautionary Tales (2002) [9.56]
IMMH (2012) [6.47]
Netsuke (2001 rev. 2004) [14.49]
Richard CAUSTON (b. 1971)
Threnody (1991) [5.59]
Rituals of Hunting and Blooding (2000 rev. 2002) [13.07]
Non Mi Comporto Male (1993) [8.16]
Sleep (2006) [2.34]
Night Piece (2014) [6.24]
The Continuum Ensemble (Lisa Nelsen (flute, piccolo); Marie Lloyd (clarinet, bass clarinet
E flat clarinet); Sara Thurlow (clarinet); Graham Hobbs (bassoon); Torbjőrn Hultmark (trumpet, flugelhorn); Jonny Watkins (alto and tenor trombone); Chris Brannick (percussion); Douglas Finch (piano); Neil Georgeson (piano, celesta); Ruth Rogers (violin); Marcus Barcham-Stevens (violin); Diana Mathews (viola); Joseph Spooner (cello); Simo Vaïsanen (double bass))/Philip Headlam
Marty Bevan (soprano); Tamsin Waley-Cohen* (violin); Alexander Szram* (piano)
rec. Blackheath Halls, January 2016; RCM Studios, London, February 2016
PRIMA FACIE PFCD-051 [78.56]

Here is modern British music that is inspired by fantasy lands, fables, early science-fiction and other miscellaneous fancies. These trigger musical responses in an extraordinary diverse range of musical styles.

Kenneth Hesketh studied at London’s Royal College of Music, at the University of Michigan (M.Mus.) and at the Tanglewood Music Centre, U.S.A. He has received composing commissions from numerous orchestras in the United Kingdom, Europe, America and Canada. His music has been performed just as widely.

A Land So Luminous, the CD title work, composed for violin and piano, was inspired by an episode from Les États et Empires du Soleil (The Empires and States of the Sun) by 17th century philosopher-poet, Cyrano de Bergerac, apparently the real Cyrano not Edmond Rostand’s character. This Cyrano conjured up imaginative worlds, utopian worlds and space travel – clearly one of the first science-fiction writers. Hesketh’s music seems ethereal yet moving through antagonism to cooperation from virtuosity and cosmic acceleration to quiet contemplation; from a wild dance to romantic dreaming. Interesting and amusing.

Cautionary Tales is for violin, clarinet and piano and is in three movements. Two movements (one and three) have their inspiration from a 19th century German children’s book intended to encourage good behaviour. The third is based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince about a young and innocent Prince from another planet trying to make sense of the adult world. The first movement begins in cacophony but soon develops whimsically, mischievously. We are instructed to take away from this absurdity the lesson a mother would want to impart: ‘Wash properly!’ The second movement is more hesitant before the clarinet questions and probes while the others attempt, perhaps, to calm and maybe seduce. Mother’s moral – ‘Be careful in love!’ The third movement has the violin introducing sinister elements, the clarinet protesting and argumentative before trying to calm its companions. They are uncouth yet the clarinet gives as good as it gets. Mother’s moral: ‘Don’t suck your thumb!’

IMMH is for solo cello. It is a short imagined shamanic ritual marking the passage from life to death. Hesketh uses the properties of his chosen instrument to good imaginative effect including tapping out drum-like rhythms on the body of the cello. His wordless voice interjects now and then to add colour.

Netsuke, is another work with grotesque derivations. The first movement, ‘Statue 1’, pursues the earlier theme of forbidden thumb-sucking with a nightmarish scenario of a child being pursued by a man with a giant pair of scissors intent on cutting off his thumb. Needless to say the music is chillingly nightmarish with frightening dissonances. ‘Statue 2’ follows immediately; listeners are advised to examine their CD player's display because movements are not necessarily played in the order as stated on the packaging. This is devoted to a musical evocation of ‘The Owl’ as suggested by a poem by Walter de la Mare. Hesketh’s composition cleverly tells us of the bird’s dual nature: sleepy and lethargic by day and a fierce predator by night - a powerful silvery phantom emitting fierce hunting cries. The concluding movement is influenced - again - by an episode in ‘Le Petit Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is a gentle, haunting tale about a young prince fallen to earth from an asteroid. As the notes tell us, when he sees a rose - a rare sight where he comes from - he begins to understand the fragile nature of love. Hesketh sympathetically evokes the still, ethereal beauty of the heavens and the naïve innocence of the Prince. His harmonies and colouring make this the outstanding track of his portion of the album.

Richard Causton studied at the University of York, the Royal College of Music and Scuola Civica, Milan. He has worked with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as well as various other European ensembles. Recent works have included Twenty-Seven Heavens, for orchestra premiered at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, commissioned as part of the London Cultural Olympiad, 2012. Causton is Reader in Composition at the University of Cambridge.

Causton’s concert opens with his remarkable Threnody for soprano, piano and two clarinets that are placed some distance away from the singer. The work, by Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), is a setting of a poem that traces the struggle and turbulence of life. It is mordant. Its words are exceptionally pessimistic as the following quotations intimate: “I know the truth … no need for people anywhere to struggle … And soon all of us will sleep under the earth.” This is an elegy conceived and delivered as though in detachment, as if from an unearthly distance. Velvety-voiced soprano, Mary Bevan, with scrupulous control, beautifully projects the text which is sung mainly legato in long held lines. She is sensitive to the words yet manages somehow to add a consolatory note.

Rituals of Hunting and Blooding is a dramatic work, pitching the hunters against the hunted. It is highly evocative – and, in the opening movement, not without humour – the high woodwinds represent the anguished terrified cries of the quarry. The unscrupulous huntsman is voiced by trumpet and trombone with the horses’ whinnying again from woodwinds. There is a hint of Gershwin syncopations too. The second movement concerns the after-hunt blooding. The wind now with flugelhorn and alto trombone contribute a richly sonorous chorale. The violin answers with a solemn melody in double-stops accompanied by the double bass. Deep bell sounds and percussive piano close the scene.

Non Mi Comporto Male for piano solo hinges on a hidden melody only gradually revealed after much meandering through jazzy material. Again there are some Gershwin-like harmonies and numerous other pop, blues, jazz and classical styles, sometimes in opposition. Pianist Douglas Finch is certainly not misbehavin’ if I am not giving the game away - fun. Night Piece is another piano work again played by Douglas Finch. It’s a reworking of the theme of the second movement (Adagio) from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto K. 622. A dream-like atmosphere and bell-like sonorities veil the music before the well-known sighing melody surfaces - an interesting and imaginative arrangement.

Sleep is played solo by Lisa Nelsen (flute). This sad little piece was inspired by the first stanza of a poem by the Greek poet, George Seferis (1900-71). A short quote: “Sleep wrapped you in green leaves like a tree, you breathed like a tree … I held your pulse a moment and felt elsewhere your heart’s pain.” Causton’s music and Nelsen’s interpretation say it all.
Ian Lace

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