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Joseph PHIBBS (b. 1974)
Preludes (2016) [23:54]
Dobrinka TABAKOVA (b. 1980)
Modétudes (1994-1999) [12:46]
Hannah KENDALL (b. 1984)
On the Chequer’d Field Array’d (2013) [11:46]
Halo (1999) [12:00]
Nocturne (2008) [3:33]
Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano)
rec. 2017, Studio 6, Hungarian National Radio, Budapest

Andrew Matthews-Owen has appeared regularly in recordings of vocal and chamber music, including that of Jonathan Dove, Charlotte Bray, Alun Hoddinott, but this is his first solo album.

Joseph Phipps’s six Preludes were written over a four-year period and as a collection are dedicated to Andrew Matthews-Owen. The first of these is written in memory of Andrew’s mother, and has an austere, largely reflective atmosphere, the spare texture of the opening sparkling passages of patterned notes. The second is dedicated to the composer Colin Matthews, and has a secretive, nocturnal feel with some interesting resonance effects. The returning perpetuum mobile patterns of the first prelude are explored further in the third, while the bell-like sounds of the fourth are quiet and ruminative. The fifth has an explosive virtuosity, ranging over the keyboard with swift intensity, the sixth completing the set with prayer-like introversion, its dedication commemorating the American composer Steven Stucky.

Hannah Kendall’s On the Chequer’d Field Array’d takes its title from a poem called Cassia from 1763 by Sir William Jones that describes the game of chess in its three phases. Mindplay develops the pieces in a musically driven power-play with “vivid notions of battle and struggle” against a backdrop of thoughtfulness. This extends into Middlegame, the longest of the three movements, using a wide-ranging and fairly abstract exploration of “the flourishing visual transitions and potential patterns which occur as the chess pieces become dispersed about the board.” The conclusion is a Coda in which energy becomes dissipated as the game plays out, the conclusion emphasising inevitable defeat rather than victory.

Dobrinka Tabakova’s music is infused with the rhythms and tonal modes of her native Bulgaria, some of the Modétudes comparable in character to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. Matthews-Owen sees them “not so much as études as character studies, almost folk songs”, and there are certainly plenty of points of recognition, from lyrical song-like pieces and wild dances to a solemn, funereal march. Halo might be seen as a complete sonata, its three movements playing with a move from darkness to ‘blinding shine’, and concluding with a Calm and settled glow. This work moves us a long way from the Modétudes into a work that delves deep into imagery first inspired by “a beautiful halo which had formed around the moon one summer’s night,” its portrayal of light delivering a potently triumphant finale. The final Nocturne creates “a seamless, nocturnal atmosphere” through gently interlocking arpeggio figures.

This is something of an odd recording and requires your a-grade reproduction equipment to give of its best. The Steinway piano used sounds a bit elderly and remote, and there are few small production issues such as a disconcerting channel hop to the right channel 2:20 into track one and one or two edit dips elsewhere. What resonance there is in a fairly restricted sounding acoustic pinches into mono, though as the actual stereo effect isn’t particularly marked you’ll probably only notice this through headphones. Technical caveats aside, this is an intriguing collection of music that you won’t be able to find anywhere else, performed by an intrepid artist from whom we can only hope to hear more in the near future.

Dominy Clements



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