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Geoffrey POOLE (b. 1949)
A Pianist’s I Ching (2001-2018)
ZONE 1 Zhen GREEN SHOOTS [17:38]
ZONE 2 Kun GOLDEN EGGS [25:25]
ZONE 6 Kan BLACK WAVES [25:55]
ZONE 7 Qian INDIGO SKIES [19:04]
Geoffrey Poole (piano)
rec. January-March 2019, Cardiff Millennium Studios, and February 2020, Kings’ School Macclesfield.
PRIMA FACIE PFCD150-52 [3 CDs: 171:25]

Geoffrey Poole is one of those musicians who, as Damon Runyon might have put it, is “always around and about”, but usually somewhere under the mainstream radar. Now retired from his professorship at Bristol University, he is able to devote time to freelance composing and piano playing, as well as a number of administrative posts.

Taken as a single three-hour composition, A Pianist’s I Ching has the outward appearance of something as daunting as something by Sorabji, but we are encouraged to “Start Anywhere – at random, with any title that appeals – just as you might open a book of sonnets, or recipes.” There is no grand scheme, each title being one of 64 relatively concise character pieces. These are grouped into 8 Zones of 8 movements, each Zone being organised as a suite of more or less related pieces.
The I Ching or ‘Book of Changes’ is an ancient Chinese divination text “in which every situation is regarded as a further stepping stone in our developing consciousness. Change (Transformation through Time), is of course the essential condition of Music, but by composing a short character-piece to each one of the I Ching’s 64 states of being, Poole has pressed his imagination into concepts and feelings unfamiliar to Western minds and ears. In many of these pieces the musical language is readily approachable, yet the outcome can be surprising. Such is the nature of Change.”

These pieces evolved over a 15 year period, and some of them have already been performed at venues such as the Purcell Room in London. Poole’s expressive palette is an eclectic one, and there is a wide variety of ‘happening’ throughout this monumental undertaking. Geoffrey Poole’s pianism is remarkable, and it is of course significant to hear a composer playing their own music. Not having the score to hand I can only raise the occasional eyebrow at what sounds like a splashy moment here and there during some of the more technically extreme pieces, but the effect of the whole is far more significant than one or two mildly suspect notes.

The collection of styles here is not only eclectic, but is also highly cosmopolitan. There are swathes of impressionism, pieces built on Chinese or Japanese scales, explorations of colour and sonority in the piano and of mood from jazzy wit to lonely melancholy and musical references to landscape and nature. There is a certain amount of elusive melody and places where you feel some counterpoint might even be getting off the ground, but Poole’s intuitive approach follows its own rules. If you let it, this can lead to a certain amount of irritation with what can sound like aimless meandering. Spending time with this recording means turning on your inner Buddhist, switching off your own egocentrism and expectations and accepting what you are hearing without prejudice. Each piece has a title and an aphoristic and sometimes poetic description, and these can be ignored or followed like the synopsis of an opera, depending on your inclination. The meditative effect of this is like a stream of consciousness. There are no real highlights here, but this is an important part of the effect of A Pianist’s I Ching. There is no meritocracy going on amongst these pieces and there are no ‘tall poppies’ despite the contrasts in style. The recorded sound is good, if perhaps not demonstration quality.

Dominy Clements

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