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Richard HARVEY (b.1953)
Scénarios - A Collection of Miniatures for Solo Piano
John Lenehan (piano)
rec. Yehudi Menuhin Hall, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey, no date given

Richard Harvey is a British composer whose father was a woodwind player and also a composer. Harvey attended the Royal College of Music where he studied composition with Stephen Dodgson. The young Harvey was a member of the British Youth Symphony Orchestra. He also formed his own band, Gryphon who majored on English folk voices and medieval and Renaissance sounds. They toured with Yes in the UK and the USA. He has a collection of over 800 different instruments from all over the world and founded a music charity called the MAE Foundation "which introduces musical teaching and participation to children in long-term refugee camp situations."

There have been commissions for TV and film music. If you recall Alan Bleasdale’s political drama GBH on TV you might be interested to know that the score was his handiwork jointly with Elvis Costello. He has also worked with his friend and famed film composer, Hans Zimmer. For cinema, Harvey has also written the score for Animal Farm.

The Altus label has often been an accommodating home for Richard Harvey recording projects: witness Kyrie (review) on ALU0012, The Legend of Suriyothai on ALU0006 and The Great Within on ALU0005. Concert works have also been in evidence, including Concerto Antico for guitarist John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra. Among his most substantial pieces is the oratorio Plague and the Moonflower, to words by Ralph Steadman. Among eminent musicians with whom Harvey has worked are Michala Petri for his recorder concerto (on a disc with concertos by Arnold and Jacob) and Roger Chase for Harvey's Reflections for viola and orchestra with other British works.

Of ‘Scénarios’, Richard Harvey has written: “When I’m composing, I always feel that the audience and I are one and the same and therefore I always try to write music that I would like to hear. It’s important to like what you create.” These innocently chiming miniatures for piano are of a piece: and that piece is a demeanour that is dewily calming and touching. They are always tuneful. In some cases they take the form of melodic-minimalist (Printemps, The Gift). In others Harvey harks back, as in the Valse Soigné and Pianoscuro, to previous eras. They often have a sad turn to the lip and inhabit a plangent world of soft-focus sentiment. I suspect all of these have a story backdrop but Harvey does not tell us. That was probably the right choice as stories tend to distract; best to centre your attention on the music. We are told that the ideas are from the composer's notebooks and some reach back to his student days and others from Mediterranean locales. They are easy to digest and have about them the air of Nyman, Einaudi, Schnittke's Spiegel im Spiegel (try Adieu for example) and Johnny Mandel's theme from the MASH television series. The closest real approximation I can come up with - and I am not to suggesting a lack of distinctive personality in either composer - is Elena Kats-Chernin. Certainly, Harvey plumbs deep pools and varied seas. These twenty pieces are adeptly performed and warmly recorded at close quarters. There's a touching sympathy in the playing of Richard Harvey's friend, John Lenehan. The tenth track is High Fives and this is the only one in which Lenehan performs in duet with the composer.

There's no booklet with this disc so you have to make do with what you can find in the way of the usual discographic details on its cardboard fold and the composer's well-stocked website.

Rob Barnett

1. Balade [2.42]
2. Printemps [3.28]
3. Valse Soigné [2.12]
4. The Gift [1.46]
5. Acqua [4.19]
6. Perchance [2.07]
7. Pianoscuro [2.35]
8. Danza [2.41]
9. Le Bel Aujourd’hui [2.43]
10. High Fives [3.28]
11. Temps Perdu [2.28]
12. Apsara [2.52]
13. Encounter [2.34]
14. Inspirale [4.17]
15. The Book of Hours [3.27]
16. For A Rainy Day [3.00]
17. Adieu [5.37]
18. En Passant [3.35]
19. Quiétude [4.00]
20. L’étude [1.39]


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