PRESS REVIEWS and FEATURES
'However bad things had got for Mozart when he died, at least he still had his nose. We know from a letter Mozart wrote to his father that Josef Mysliveček, the Czech composer two decades his senior who was a friend and something of a mentor, had his burned off in a botched surgical attempt to cure syphilis. Like Mozart, Mysliveček was brilliant, acclaimed where he worked – mostly in Italy – and incurably profligate. Yet the difference in their posthumous success could hardly be more pronounced, and Mysliveček’s music has long been overlooked. Pianist Clare Hammond had to make her own new editions of the two brief piano concertos for this recording, the first to include all of Mysliveček’s definitely attributed keyboard music together.
That much will tell you that the keyboard was not Mysliveček’s favoured medium – he was more prolific writing for orchestra and voices, with 55 symphonies and more than two dozen operas to his name. This disc will tell you that’s a shame. The two compact concertos have a sparky grace that comes across buoyantly in these performances, for which Hammond is joined by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Nicholas McGegan. A highlight is the middle movement of the Concerto No 2, here in its premiere recording, in which the piano’s melody hangs in the air above gently rippling muted strings.
The other pieces were intended for amateur players – six two-movement Lessons, and, best of all, the Six Easy Divertimenti. Artur Schnabel’s old adage about Mozart’s piano sonatas – “too easy for children, and too difficult for artists” – would come to mind for Mysliveček’s Divertimenti, were it not for the perfectly judged tone that Hammond strikes with them, preserving their seemingly artless charm while finding a striking profundity in their simplicity. Mozart liked them, writing to his father that they would “make their best effect when performed with expression, taste and brio”, and that is exactly what they get from Hammond.'
'Britain's excellent Clare Hammond, meanwhile, has been rummaging in the archives for keyboard music by the 18th-century composer Josef Myslivecek - hard to spell, harder to pronounce - who paved the way for Mozart, an admirer, and led a lustful cosmopolitan life.
Sprightliness abounds in the concertos and short pieces gathered here, delivered with deliciously unfussy poise and elegance on a modern Steinway, crisply supported by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the conductor Nicholas McGegan.'
'Josef Myslivecek (1737-81) was 26 years old when he left his native Prague for Italy, where he studied with Pescetti in Venice and, a mere two years later, had the first of his two dozen or so opere serie produced. Italy would remain the centre of his activity - with three sojourns north, to Prague, Vienne and Munich - until his death of tertiary syphilis at the age of 44. In addition to his operas, there are some 45 symphonies, eight violin concertos, oratorios and a substantial amount of chamber music. Myslivecek apparently composed relatively little for the keyboard and virtually all of it that survives is presented in this attractive new recording by Clare Hammond.'
The two concertos are thought to date from Myslivecek's Munich sojourn in 1776-78 and, despite the considerable richness of the orchestral writing, the solo parts are considerably less demanding technically than Mozart or Clementi and less audacious than Haydn. Modest though their means may be, their charm is abundant, and both concertos are clearly the works of a supremely competent and gift musician, if not of a keyboard virtuoso. To Hammond's credit, she lets this appealing music speak for itself, never yiedling to the temptation of burdening it with undue portent or extraneous affect. Nicholas McGegan and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (which will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its founding next year) are her supportive collaborators. The exquisitely poignant Larghetto of the F Major Concerto, with its delicately colours accompaniment of muted violins and pizzicato lower strings, is alone worth the price of the disc.
The two solo sets are clearly intended for the amateur market. The longest of the Six Easy Divertimenti (1777) is just over three minutes. The more elaborate Six Easy Lessons (1780) are a set of two-movement sonatas which, with but one exception, join a lively opening movement with a more relaxed finale. Here too Hammond demonstrates that simplicity of utterance need not preclude either elegance or eloquence.'
'Il a beau avoir précédé, rencontré (plusieurs fois) et très certainement influencé Mozart, composé une trentaine d’opéras et connu un véritable succès en son temps, le compositeur et violoniste tchèque Josef Myslivecek (1737-1781) n’a été que tardivement réhabilité en tant que musicien de premier plan. Son œuvre pour clavier (clavecin ou pianoforte) suscite encore si peu d’intérêt qu’il a fallu, pour ce disque, éditer de nouvelles versions des deux concertos, en revenant aux sources manuscrites. La musique est pourtant de belle qualité, quoique le répertoire soit restreint, et l’on apprécie de la goûter gravée, pour la première fois, dans son intégralité, dans une réalisation plus qu’impeccable.
Principale artisane de cette redécouverte, la pianiste britannique Clare Hammond a bien choisi ses complices, trouvant dans l’Orchestre de chambre de Suède et le chef Nicholas McGegan les partenaires idoines pour une restitution brillante, expressive et dynamique des concertos. Le jeu de la soliste est fluide, son toucher sûr et délicat. En solo, sur un Steinway D qui ne fait jamais regretter le clavecin ni le pianoforte, elle exécute avec grâce les Six Divertimentos faciles, miniatures d’une fausse autant que redoutable simplicité, et donne des résonances quasi orchestrales à certaines des Six Leçons faciles.'
Click here for a translation.
'Ohne die Briefzeugnisse seines Freundes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart hätte der tschechische Komponist Myslivecek (in Italian, wo er lebte, Il Divino Boemo gennant) post mortem wohl kaum wieder Aufmerksamkeit erlangt. Seine Musik ist charmant einfach, eben deshalb "mit viel Expression und Feuer" zu spielen, meinte Mozart. Gerade beim Klavierkonzert Nr. 1 zeigt Clare Hammond, wie durch Forcierung des dialogischen Solistenparts das freundliche Thema sich rauer une herausfordernder vor dem eher dekorativen Ensemble bewähren kann. So kann sich das Grazioso im Andantino wirkungsvoll zu den stolzen Rondo-Gesten des Orchesters und dem Capriccio-Temperament des fein klingenden Klaviers abgrenzen. Ebenso wird von ihr der Schwung im Klavierkonzert Nr. 2 kokett und in dynamischen Nuancen artikuliert, hingegen das Larghetto sanft und forsch das Menuett. Ihre kontrastive Spielweise gibt diesen relativ kurzen Werken ein gewisses Plus. Eine Strategie, die Clare Hammond auch auf die sechs Divertimenti für Klavier solo anwendet, die sie wie Kinderbuchgeschichten empfindet und in naiver Neugier zu pittoresken Miniaturen formt, während sie bei den etwas anspruchsvolleren sechs Übungen auf deren Sonaten-Dramaturgie und chromatische Pikanterien achtet. Gut, dass Clare Hammond sich ihre Recherchen zu Herzen genommen hat, denn dadurch ist das schmale Klavier-Oeuvre von Josef Myslivecek zu recht aufgewertet worden.'
Interpretation 6/6, Klang 5/6, Repertoirewert 5/6
Click here for a translation.
'Der Tscheche Josef Myslivecek (1737-1781) war vor allem in Italien mit Opern erfolgreich. Mozart sagte von ihm, er sei « voll Feuer, geistreich und lebenslustig ».Zwar gibt es auch symphonische Werke von diesem Komponisten auf CD, aber die Klavierkonzerte werden hier in Ersteinspielungen vorgelegt, für die die englische Pianistin Clare Hammond ihre eigenen Editionen erstellen musste.
Die Divertimenti und Etüden sind in der Tat leichte Stücke, die Hammond aber sehr ernsthaft und geschmackvoll eloquent spielt. Doch es sind vor allem die zwei Klavierkonzerte, die diese Veröffentlichung attraktiv machen. Beide Werke – das erste dauert 10, das zweite 14 Minuten – sind sehr spritzig und werden in der alerten Interpretation von Clare Hammond und dem Swedish Chamber Orchestra unter Nicholas McGegan in ihrer charmanten und melodischen Art sehr wirkungsvoll. Besonders schön finde ich das Larghetto des 2. Klavierkonzerts, das mit einer charakteristischen Melodie die Qualität eines langsamen Satzes aus einem Mozart-Konzert hat.'
Click here for a translation.
'Der Mozart-Zeitgenosse Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781), den die Italiener „il boemo“ oder „Venatorino“ (Der kleine Jäger, wie sein Name übersetzt lautet) nannten, ist, wenn überhaupt, mehr für seine Opern bekannt. Über 28 sind es, sie wurden in ganz Europa gedruckt, in Italien war Mysliveček zu seiner Zeit der höchstbezahlte Opernkomponist. In letzter Zeit wurden seine Orchesterkonzerte bekannter – seine Klavierwerke sind fast unbekannt. Sie sind alle auf dieser CD versammelt. Clare Hammond, die alle spielt, hat darüber sehr kundig im Booklet geschrieben.
Die beiden Klavierkonzerte sind hübsch und fein gearbeitet, das Largettho des Klavierkonzertes Nr. 2 in F-Dur überrascht durch seine bezaubernde Samtigkeit, die durch die Dämpfer der Violinen und die Pizzicati der übrigen Streicher hervorgerufen wird, - und durch seine stilistische Mozart-Nähe. Das nun ist die Crux dabei: Myslivečeks Musik wird immer mit der von Mozart verglichen und zieht dabei immer den Kürzeren.
Die Sechs leichten Divertimenti sind wirklich leicht – und kompositorisch doch recht unerheblich. Charmanter und charaktervoller sind die jeweils zweisätzigen Sechs leichten Übungen.
Damit diese Klaviermusik wirkt, muss sie – das wusste schon Mozart – „mit vieller expreßion, gusto und feuer“ gespielt werden: Und genau das tut Clare Hammond. Sie geht mit Feuer, Esprit und Verkündigungseifer zu Werke und gewinnt damit dieser Klaviermusik viel wirkungsvolles Brio ab. Und auch das Schwedische Kammerorchester unter Nicholas McGegan ist mit Phrasierungsfantasie und federnder Gespanntheit dabei.
Es ist Musik für eine Frühlings-Matinee, charmant und wohlklingend, moussierend und belebend. Und das ist nicht wenig.'
Click here for a translation.
'Josef Mysliveček is one of those figures collectors of a certain age may have come across digging around in the bargain sections of record shops, with labels such as Supraphon putting out some titles including orchestral and chamber works. Recent decades have raised the veil on his Symphonies and choral works such as La Passione, but as the premiere recorded status of the Concerto No. 2 in F major found on this BIS release might suggest, there are likely to be further scores still to be unearthed and shown the light of day.
Mysliveček was himself more of a violinist than a keyboard specialist, so these works aren’t particularly virtuoso in character. The concertos have plenty of character in the piano parts in keeping with their more public character, and they are both models of the form popular in Germany – probably Munich in this case – at the time. Mozart was certainly enamoured of Mysliveček both as a man and a musician, and as Clare Hammond’s booklet notes point out, the influence of the elder figure on the teenage Mozart should not be underestimated. These are cheerful works with nicely lyrical centres and lively outer movements, by no means plumbing emotional depths, but as beautifully crafted and entertaining as anything you could desire.
The Six Easy Divertimenti have a clear pedagogical value, and were seen as such by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in their publication of the pieces in 1983. These performances return to more contemporary editions both here and in the more substantial Six Easy Lessons. The Divertimenti have a largely two-part dialogue between the hands, exploring different left-hand accompaniment techniques and requiring a delicate expressive touch to make the right hand’s lines sing. The Six Easy Lessons take the form of two-movement sonata-like works, with greater demands made on playing technique, richer textures emerging from the piano, and with some nice byways in terms of tonality and dynamics.
As you might expect, Clare Hammond’s impeccable musicianship and BIS’s refined engineering make for a compelling team in this attractive production. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra has a rich sound and Nicholas McGegan is a sensitive collaborator in the concertos. Turn up the volume and revel in some very fine and freshly minted 18th century time travel.'
'This new recording from pianist Clare Hammond and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan fills a significant gap in the discography. Josef Mysliveček (17371781) was a Czech composer based from 1763 in Italy, where he made important contributions to the opera seria genre that form the basis of his reputation. Born in Prague as the eldest of identical twin sons to a prosperous miller, he looked set to continue in the family trade but instead switched to a career in music, studying with Josef Seger, the organist of Prague’s famous Týn Church. He established a reputation as an excellent violinist before leaving his homeland to study operatic composition in Venice and, apart from brief visits to Prague, Vienna and Munich, never returned to Central Europe. In Italy he was active mainly in Venice and subsequently Naples, where he led a colourful life and cemented his fame as one of the leading composers of opere serie. For some years he was close to the Mozart family, whom he met in 1770 in Bologna, and Wolfgang Amadeus clearly had a high regard for the composer known in Italy as ‘il Boemo’, although the relationship soured when Mysliveček failed to deliver on a promised Naples operatic commission for the younger composer. Apart from his operas, Mysliveček is known today mainly for his symphonies (all in the Italianate threemovement form), violin concertos and string quintets.
Until now, Mysliveček’s few works for piano have received little attention, so Clare Hammond’s complete survey, which at 76 minutes fits onto a single CD, is a welcome addition to the catalogue. (Only a single piano sonata of dubious attribution is omitted.) The main attraction for many will be the two piano concertos. These are compact works (the first lasting just 11 minutes), expertly crafted and revealing an elegance of invention that is immediately appealing. The B flat Concerto (no.1, probably composed, like its companion, in the late 1770s) is alert and nicely poised, and Hammond together with the Swedish orchestra and McGegan, bring out all its charm, not least in the central Andantino with its throwaway ending. Though played on modern instruments, there is an unaffected stylishness and charm to the playing that is immediately appealing.
The second concerto, in F major, is a more substantial work, although as in the first the wind instruments (oboes and horns) merely bolster the orchestral tutti passages. The opening movement, with its string swirls, is abundantly characterful, while the third is a buoyant dance in minuet time, with an ear-catching minor-key section that features off beat punctuation from the strings. But it is the central movement that is the real gem here, a limpid Larghetto with muted violins and pizzicato lower strings accompanying an achingly cantabile solo part. This is music that Mozart might well have envied, and Hammond turns in an immensely heartfelt performance with a gentle touch that has the listener spellbound. It raises the work to a level that ought to see it enter the wider repertoire, and this disc will surely champion its cause.
The rest of the disc consists of two sets of ‘easy’ pieces for solo piano. In the case of the six Divertimenti of 1777, the label is particularly apt, for these are nicely turned character pieces that will suit any moderately accomplished amateur pianist, but Hammond’s playing transforms them into exquisite but unpretentious miniatures. The Six Easy Lessons of three years later are once again more substantial (and technically demanding), each comprising a twomovement sonata, four of them concluding with minuets. Particularly attractive are the opening movement of no.3, with its pulsating left-hand accompaniment, and the Minuet with variations that closes no.6 with a series of right-hand cascades. Hammond proves an excellent guide to these works (as she also does in her excellent booklet notes), which are perhaps most redolent of middle-period Mozart, and the whole disc is immensely enjoyable. With a fine recording from the Örebro Concert Hall in Sweden, it will surely bring a welcome boost to the reputation of ‘il Boemo’.'
'If you’re enjoying Ivan Ilic's ongoing Reicha series on Chandos, Clare Hammond’s Josef Mysliveček anthology is well worth investigating. Poor Mysliveček should be better known, though, as Hammond points out, his name is both unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce. Born in Prague in 1737, Mysliveček’s status as a Czech speaker counted against him; Czech was perceived as a language for the lower classes, though in Italian circles he was known as “Il Divino Boemo.” Post-WW2, Mysliveček’s wind and string music began, slowly to reach a wider audience, though Czech academics were prevented from travelling internationally and spreading the word. Mozart was a friend and admirer, describing him as a man full of “fire, spirit and life”; Hammond points out that Mozart lifted ideas from Mysliveček’s music.
Is it any good? Comparing what's on this disc to Mozart’s keyboard disc highlights the gap between talent and genius. Mysliveček’s music is less polished, less distinctive but disarmingly attractive. The two keyboard concertos are a case in point. While they're unfolding you're gripped, even if the actual material isn't always memorable. Though the “Larghetto” of the F major Concerto is something very special, clearly anticipating several famous Mozart slow movements. Hammond’s poised elegance is something very special: Mysliveček’s demands are as much interpretative as technical, and she knows exactly when to step back and let the music speak. Six Easy Divertimenti for the Harpsichord or Pianoforte can’t be easy to play this well, and the same goes for the sequence of tiny two-movement sonatas which make up the Six Easy Lessons. If the effervescent “Allegro con brio” of the sixth one doesn't invoke helpless grins, you've no soul. Nicolas McGegan’s Swedish Chamber Orchestra excel in the concertos, and sound, artwork and production values are faultless.'
'It seems a long time since I have reviewed any Mysliveček, and so it transpires: 2006, in fact, his La Passione di Nostro Signor Gesu Christo (composed around 1770) on the Capriccio label (review). It is a delight and a pleasure to return to his beautifully crafted output, this time in the hands of Clare Hammond and BIS. We not only get the composer’s complete keyboard output neatly in one place, expertly performed, but can hear the world premiere recording of his Second Piano Concerto.
The First Concerto has never been published. Clare Hammond has made her own editions of these works from autograph manuscripts at the Bibliothèque National de France. She toured the Concerto in Poland in 2016. (That was not actually the modern premiere: there was a recording in the 1970s with Anastasia Braudo and the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra, re-released on a hard-to-find compact disc under the series heading “Outstanding Musicians of St Petersburg”, volume two of “Archival Recordings of Anastasia Braudo”.) The performance with Hammond and McGegan is wonderful, clean-cut – think J. C. Bach clean-cut – and it includes some notably tricky flourishes for the soloist. One can see why this composer is sometimes seen as a bridge to Mozart, and one must also acknowledge that he acted as a stylistic model for Mozart. Designated as for “cembalo”, it is likely that Mysliveček’s concertos were intended for fortepiano because of the dynamic markings in the keyboard part. After the bracing first movement, there is an Andantino, songful yet still fresh of demeanor; it finds Hammond pitching her Steinway’s voice perfectly against muted violins and pizzicato lower strings. Eloquence really is the watchword here. A happy rondo concludes the work, wherein Hammond’s beautifully neat way with the musical surface does it full service. A brief but charmingly amusing cadenza adds a touch of humour.
The Second Concerto was actually published, by Boosey & Hawkes in 1964. It is a little more ambitious than the first (fourteen minutes as opposed to nine); its expanded cadenza reflecting this. There is no mention in the booklet of who composed the cadenzas, unfortunately. As MS scores to both of the concertos are available on IMSLP and both show simply a pause at the relevant point, one assumes they are by Hammond. The central Larghetto explores significantly deeper territory than anywhere else on the disc, its delicious slips into the minor mode thereby doubly effective. The work ends with a breezy, yet strong-of-character minuet complete with several Trios. Again, Hammond’s touch is perfectly judged throughout, and accompaniments by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and McGegan are stylish and light.
The Six Divertimenti and the Six Easy Lessons were both clearly designed for amateurs, but both have charm aplenty. The Divertimenti for Harpsichord or Piano, to give the full title, was published by the ABRSM in 1983 so may be familiar to many readers, although the 1784 Coreti & Sutherland edition was used here. Not many, though, will have played them as beautifully as Hammond, who cherishes each like a little jewel. No token recording gesture this, the Divertimenti unfold with perfect ease. Some contrast appears with the Andantino fourth Divertimento, where it is easy to imagine a pair of winds delivering the right-hand’s line, a-piping pastorally. Fitting the set ends with a restrained Andantino, mirroring the opening movement’s tempo designation.
The duration of the Six Easy Lessons (actually a set of six sonatas) comes as something of a shock: over 35 minutes. Each Sonata is cast in two movements, generally quick first and then a Minuetto (in four out of the six). No. 4 begins with an Andantino, with a minuet as its partner. More substantive than the Divertimenti, yet sharing with them a sense of jewel-like construction, they are a joy. Hammond’s own joy in performing them, in presenting them to us, shines through. Her nimbleness is called upon particularly in the Third Sonata. Its companion Minuetto is almost a slow movement, and markedly lachrymose which seems to be a half-brother to the restrained Andantino that opens the Fourth Sonata. Although not given a tempo marking, No. 5’s first movement seems some sort of relative to the busy atmosphere of Mozart’s Figaro. The final minuet of the final sonata is actually the basis of a set of six variations, which themselves could be a lost set of early Mozart.
The ever-enterprising Toccata Classics label has done some sterling work for the Mysliveček cause, and there is a lovely disc of symphonies on Chandos by Bamert and the London Mozart Players; but we, of course, should be grateful for Hammond’s work here. She is a questing artist. I particularly enjoyed her disc of Etudes, also on BIS (here).
Hammond’s Mysliveček is as refreshing as a well-timed sorbet.'
'Situated in Sheffield General Cemetery, the Grade II-listed Samuel Worth Chapel was the perfect venue for the premiere of the atmospheric ‘Ghosts and Whispers’ project. Accompanied by images from the Quay Brothers and presented in subdued lighting, pianist Clare Hammond gave a programme consisting of an unbroken sequence of fragments, last thoughts and miniatures by Mozart, Schubert, Janáček, Jacquet de la Guerre, Stravinsky, Schumann and Wagner, interwoven with movements from John Woolrich’s Pianobooks, a series of short inventions.
The juxtaposition of these shards of music written in a familiar language with Woolrich’s compact and enigmatic miniatures had a deliciously disorientating effect. Such was the flair and sensitivity of Clare Hammond that the constant switches of mood and language were intriguing and nourishing and never unsatisfying. It is a measure of her exceptional musicianship that each of the very different styles of music presented in the sequence sounded idiomatic and fluent as she slipped effortlessly between music written in late eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Austria, early twentieth-century Czechoslovakia and early-twenty-first-century England. There was even a sense of inevitability to the programme, thanks to the care, insight and technical assurance which Hammond brought to all the items.
John Woolrich’s Pianobook selections were especially successful. Unlike the splintered scores surrounding them, these tiny pieces were fully-formed and explored a specific mood or idea to the full within their limited span. The choice of items from the anthologies was a happy one, with the emphasis on processions (two of the pieces, from Pianobooks 6 and 12, were entitled ‘processional’). Hence, the first piece taken from Pianobook 2, entitled ‘The chorale moves’, was a mesmeric chain of chords that acted as a veiled and mysterious bridge between the Mozart and Schubert morsels that framed it. Among the other contributions from Woolrich, the delicately ornamented and rhythmically varied pieces from Pianobook 12 made a satisfying set, while the three pieces from Pianobook 6 - a scintillating ‘Capricho; a heavy-footed ‘Procession’, and the delicate mechanisms of the ‘Little piano machine’ – also formed a rewarding unit. The programme ended with the world premiere of the whole set of Pianobook no.15 and its precise gestures and bejewelled clarity brought the evening to a magical conclusion.'
'Saxton's work united craftsmanly rigour and a wide-ranging fantasy, the latter quality being explicit here in a double sequence entitled Hortus Musicae, Book 1 and Book 2. These "musical gardens" variously invoke what he calls a "sacred space", taking inspiration from Marvell, Auden, the Song of Solomon and even Proust, in the beautiful reminiscences of Beech Bank (A la recherche). Hammond begins her deft recital with the Chacony for Piano Left Hand and single-movement Sonata.'
'Robert Saxton, celebrated for the unswerving integrity and intellect he brings to his music, is perhaps best known for his visionary vocal works. This fine disc, beautifully performed by Clare Hammond, sheds welcome light on the composer's solo piano music and brings together Saxton's interest in early Christian mysticism, Medieval and Renaissance music, as well as his tonal and serialist training.
Earlier works begin the disc, including the tautly-structured Piano Sonata (1981) and Chacony for Piano Left Hand (1988). The latter opens to cautious whole-tone scales before swirling with dense and majestic counterpoint and receives an exhilarating reading from Hammond. But at the disc's centre are premiere recordings of Books 1 and 2 of Hortus Musicae (Garden of Music), composed in 2013 and 2015, which explore the notion of the garden as a 'sacred space'. These two collections are enchanting: at once playful and serious, exploratory, intellectually vigorous and, very often, deeply poignant.
The disc closes with the affectionate miniature Lullaby for Rosa (2016), written to mark the birth of Hammond's daughter, and standing as testament to the musical understanding shared between performer and composer.'
'To that old chestnut ‘does the composer write for the instrument or the performer?’, the answer is probably a bit of both in the case of Robert Saxton’s recent piano music. Hearing Clare Hammond give, in Saxton’s words, a ‘radiant and inspired’ performance of his Chacony for piano left hand (1988) for her doctoral recital prompted the composer to embark on a project that yielded two large-scale books for solo piano during a fecund two-year period.
Evocatively entitled Hortus musicae (‘A Garden of Music’), the five pieces contained in Book 1, composed in 2013, are study-like in their tendency to focus on a specific element. Scale-like patterns in contrary motion permeate No 1, repetition and variation are heard in No 2, the contrapuntal elaboration of a quasi-plainchant melody is explored in No 3, modal and pentatonic combinations are fused in No 4, while No 5 draws on all elements in a playful dancelike peroration.
The seven pieces that constitute Book 2 (2015) are more serious in scope. Built on contrasting block-like structures, the set opens with dense and resonant textures dredged from the murky depths of the piano’s low range before sweeping across the piano. Saxton takes more creative risks here, with No 4 presenting a tangle of tunes (some recognisable, others less so) in the form of a Proustian-style musical puzzle. The virtuoso No 7 provides a fitting and dramatic conclusion.
Central to the music’s efficaciousness is Hammond herself, of course. Book 1 arguably foregrounds the surface qualities of her playing, such as purity of line and shape, but Book 2 delves deeper, challenging the pianist to maintain clarity and transparency in often more complex and multilayered settings.
Hammond also gives an excellent account of the much earlier Piano Sonata. Written in memory of Béla Bartók, it starts with a mercurial main theme which darts around animatedly, pausing for short gasps of breath before surging forwards. The sonata ends with stasis and movement collapsing into one another in a frantic flourish of rising scales and dense chords. That Hammond succeeds on both counts is testimony to her musicianship but also to Saxton’s ability to write effectively with performer and instrument in mind.'
'What’s the story?
A disc collating most of the solo piano output by Robert Saxton (b1953) in performances by Clare Hammond, who has championed his work over recent years and is the dedicatee of two books of shorter pieces comprising Saxton’s most significant music for this instrument so far.
What’s the music like?
Saxton came of age as a composer during the early 1980s, with such pieces as the Sonata for Piano. This was completed in 1981, the centenary of Bartók’s birth and the pivoting of whose mature piano music between stasis and dynamism is evident in the present work’s methodical unfolding towards a coruscating climax; rounded off by a limpid if by no means valedictory chorale. Hammond has the measure of this compact yet eventful piece, not least its unforced and resourceful tonal follow-through as subsequently became a hallmark of Saxton’s thinking.
Such is audible in the Chacony for Piano Left Hand composed in 1988 for Leon Fleischer. Its antecedents in archetypal examples by Purcell and Bach are never hard to detect, but Saxton ‘personalizes’ this form through a tonal framework that facilitates its evolution as a sequence of interrelated variations – as defined harmonically as it is seamless texturally. Concerning the latter aspect, Saxton notes that he was at pains to ensure his music sounded as though written for two hands – a quality that is audibly to the fore in Hammond’s admirably fluent reading.
Both these pieces have been previously recorded, but the two volumes of Hortus Musicae are new to disc and evince piano writing no less idiomatic and arguably more personal than before. The inspiration is that of a ‘musical garden’ in all its allegorical and metaphysical implications, with the five pieces which comprise the First Book (2013) embodying this in ingenious ways – not least the stealthy (Andrew Marvell-inspired) floral clock of Hortus Temporis, or synthesis of formal precision and expressive eloquence in Hortus Infinitatis.
The seven pieces of the Second Book (2015) are even more diverse and contrasted in and between themselves. Here, too, the inspiration is often more concrete – hence the invoking of fondly remembered music in Beech Bank (á la recherche)…, or deft play on meanings which motivates the heady course of Hortus Animae Alis Fugacis; a concluding piece in every sense. The fact these 12 pieces outline a circular tonal trajectory makes further books unlikely, but Saxton will hopefully find a means of extending the sequence up to 24 pieces.
Does it all work?
Indeed. Saxton has long been a composer able to fuse serial and tonal elements without the results seeming at all contrived or inhibited. The two books of Hortus Musicae abound in evocative and arresting musical imagery which Hammond conveys as convincingly as she realizes the not inconsiderable technical challenges. The disc is rounded off by Lullaby for Rosa (2016), a minute-long ‘welcome gift’ for this pianist’s daughter and a further instance of how deftly Saxton integrates technical ingenuity within a context of limpid wistfulness.
Is it recommended?
Very much so. The piano sound is spacious in balance as well as realistic in tone, while the composer contributes an entertaining booklet note that takes in an overview of his ancestry and formative years. Hopefully there will be further releases of his music from this source.'
'A few days ago one of the music critics of a very prestigious newspaper confessed himself so bowled over by a concert that he was lost for words and that all he could do was give it 5 stars. Now, two things suggest themselves. Firstly, why feel guilty about that? Secondly, it is quite a rare stance indeed amongst critics. The late Edward Greenfield, the long-time critic of another newspaper, once said to me that he wished he could be called an appreciator, an attitude he told me roundly attacked by, amongst others, a friend of his, a noted American Critic, who seemed to feel that to write an article without finding something wanting was an abdication of a critic’s duty to maintain ‘standards’. It is a siren voice but luckily I only have to remind myself that this is a Diary in which I can say as many times as I like that I have enjoyed something totally and then the other sort can be waved aside and left to find their own weird pleasure in playing at Beckmessers.
This is just as well since Clare Hammond’s debut recital at the Museum as far as I was concerned was of a quality that simply destroyed any attempt of a ‘balanced’ response. I have said this before but it is manifestly true that in the history of this country’s music there have never been so many British pianists of international quality around at one time and many of them have appeared at the Museum over the years. To that roll call can now be added Clare Hammond.
To my shame, I had only vaguely registered her presence on the scene and the CV on the programme perhaps showed why. She would appear to be quite simply a polymath with immensely wide interests. Many years ago I can remember a commentary that came with a CD featuring the great Claudio Arrau describing how in his youth he had embarked on such things as a study of philosophy, apparently believing that great piano playing arose not just from fleet fingers but also involved a deep understanding of the human condition. One thing is for sure, Clare Hammond has an instinct for constructing a deeply satisfying programme, the features of which are delivered with succinct introductions that hit nail after nail on the head. I particularly admired the suggestion that in the last item, the gigantic beast that is Rachmaninov’s 2nd Sonata, we should just go with the force. In a surging performance like this that was what was needed. It was played with such bravura that one understood the notice the pianist had once received describing her as a ‘dazzling athlete’. I wondered what athletic discipline the metaphor was suggesting. The pole vault perhaps? However, it was not all riveting virtuosity. The composer’s heartfelt melancholy was also most memorably conveyed.
Before that last item we had had picture in miniature of her range. The concert started with a Haydn Piano Sonata, No. 58. Now, there has been a movement to establish this part of the composer’s output as unjustly neglected. It has been a movement that I have not hitherto thought particularly convincing, not finding it music that particularly sticks in the mind and feeling it perhaps rather narrow in range. I am sure I am wrong and there were many moments in this performance that suggested why that might be so. Particularly in the opening variations this artist found a range of utterance and colour that suggested this to be music of considerable subtlety.
That subtlety and the scope generally of the playing was even more to the fore in the performance of a number of Debussy’s Preludes. I have rarely heard such simply wonderful playing of this music, at least in the setting of this gallery. The tonal range was amazing in Sails and Dead Leaves, the virtuosity of Fireworks and The Hills of Anacapri equally extraordinary and we were well and truly enveloped by the most famous of the set, The Submerged Cathedral, with its mystery and its great surges of sound. As I listened to this, I wondered where I had heard it performed with this power before and then it came to me. Some years ago Ronan O’Hora was a frequent visitor to Leicester and he got a similarly seemingly effortless range of sound and colour out of the Museum Steinway, something that could not always be guaranteed with some other pianists. Well, lo and behold, it would appear from the programme that he was Clare Hammond’s tutor for a while. I now better understand why in my youth so much used to be made of pianists who had been the pupils of the very last of Liszt’s protégés. It seemed so tenuous a link at the time but perhaps something of unique value can be passed on generation by generation after all.
Whatever, the clear fact is we really must hear more of Clare Hammond in Leicester, preferably in a full recital, and to judge from the ovation she received I am certainly not alone in wishing that.'
'Clare Hammond's piano recital was no ordinary event. A varied and in many cases a highly demanding programme kept the listeners in awe.
Clare has amazing technique. Note-perfect, her touch made it possible to distinguish easily between a smooth rippling background and strong thematic material. No matter how complex the work, Clare made clear sense of it.
The works included in the programme were ‘Four Impromptus' by Franz Schubert and in each Clare demonstrated a firm touch, the ability to play very rapidly while never losing clarity, and she managed to capture the essence of Schubert's style in which lyrical serene melodic material hid inner pain and suffering.
‘Presto' (‘The Bee's Wedding') from Mendelssohn's ‘Songs Without Words' was one of the most challenging works for Clare's amazing technique. Her fingers flew as she evoked the unmistakeable sound of a bee buzzing.
‘Youth' by Edmund Finnis offered ten images. The textures were spacious, the melodies clear and the atmospheres evocative. The pieces flowed with momentum and character creating moments of light, glitter, stillness and peace or pausing for effect.
After interval came Rimsky-Korsakov's ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee' which was a blur of fingers giving us little time to breathe followed by a selection of items from Claude Debussy's ‘Preludes'. In these Clare managed to use the piano as a painting pallete, colouring Debussy's style well, melting Debussy's soft chords and movements beautifully.
Yet another, very different, bumble bee then appeared in the form of Ewan Campbell's ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee' in which he mimic's Rimsky Korsakov's version but gives it more depth and a sting in the tail at the end.
Not satisfied with impressing us with her fantastic ability, Clare chose to end the concert with an even more challenging work which she mastered perfectly. In Igor Stravinksy's ‘Trois mouvements de Petroushka' she revelled in its complex texture dramatic episodes and character's antics.
This wonderful concert ended with a lullaby as a well-earned encore.’
'Rounding off the Isle of Ely Arts Festival - a month long celebration of arts and cultural events throughout East Cambridgeshire - and preceded by a Masterclass at 10am, in which children played Beethoven and Chopin among other, more contemporary, composers, this was an intimate chance to enjoy the talents of internationally renowned pianist Clare Hammond. And for the children, a fabulous boost to their musical development which ranged from studying for Grade 7 exams to more advanced plans for careers in music. Clare shared her insights in the beautiful venue of Barcham House, which is renowned for its fine acoustics.
First up were the children and it was a scene from another era as different generations gathered round in hostess Diana’s lovely drawing room with delightful midmorning summer light (this was before the recent cool and cloudy weather) over a perfect English lawn outside the windows. Clare is clearly wonderful with children and sought to bring out the best in them on a Steinway piano.
After a coffee break, Clare explored a fireworks display in Paris, the story of Petroushka the enchanted puppet from Stravinsky’s ballet, and even a keyboard portrayal of killer bees on the rampage, in her concert and it was very special to witness this (this reviewer was sitting ten feet away!) This was an inspiring event for a decent audience who could take in the amazing creativity and drama of the pieces she played (only one with the music, as she slipped on her glasses!)
Clare Hammond has performed across the world and has been praised for her “unfaltering bravura and conviction”. Music by Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, and contemporary British composers Ewan Campbell and Edmund Finnis was sublimely played and it was poignant when after all that drama the dying fall of the notes came to an end. For this reviewer it was the very special nature of the event and the power of Clare’s playing that endures. Those lucky enough to be there (doubtless some had attended Clare’s concert in Ely Cathedral’s south transept the evening before), witnessed something very special. But also her wonderful affinity with the children conveyed also to the adults present via her charming stories.’
'The unpredictable wild woman with a hidden musical past that Maggie Smith portrays in the screen version of Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van could scarcely be further from the real pianist who performed as her younger self and played on the film’s soundtrack.
There is passion in Clare Hammond’s playing, a robust left hand complementing the delicate melody in the most familiar Andante movement of Schubert’s Four Impromptus, and a palpable joy in her embrace of the contrasting rhythmic playfulness of successive pieces in Chopin’s Opus 25 Etudes, but it is combined with a focus and sense of purpose that speaks of someone with a burning desire to communicate as clearly as possible.
Most obviously, perhaps, that is apparent in her eloquent and informative spoken introductions to each work on her programme, whether classic piano repertoire or contemporary work.
As billed, that latter category applied only to a new work by Scottish composer Malcolm Hayes, which continues his exploration of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the two-movement Purgatorio.
With the first part requiring very precise pedal use for the sustained bass notes of this state of suspension, Hammond steered the work masterfully from foreboding to hope, and it is no surprise that the composer (who was present for many of her recitals this past week) is enthusiastic that she adds his Inferno and Paradiso to her repertoire.
As a bonus, however, the audience for Perth’s lunchtime concert was treated to an encore of an Etude by South Korean composer Unsuk Chin to follow those of Chopin, and as included on one of the pianist’s acclaimed recordings for Sweden’s BIS label.
Such range only hinted at Hammond’s repertoire and breadth of interest, so those fortunate enough to hear her on this debut Scottish tour will be hoping for a return visit as soon as her schedule permits.’
'This enterprising disc from pianist Clare Hammond on Toccata Classics is devoted to the piano music of Robert Saxton, counterpointing two works from the 1980s Chacony for Piano Left Hand and Sonata for Piano with three more recent pieces, the suites Hortus Musicae, Book 1 and Book 2, and Lullaby for Rosa.
Robert Saxton, who is Professor of Composition at the Oxford University Faculty of Music, has an interesting pedigree. As a teenager he corresponded with and was mentored by Benjamin Britten, and was taught by Elizabeth Lutyens, Robin Holloway, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Luciano Berio.
The disc opens with Saxton's Chacony for Piano Left Hand, written in 1988 for the Aldeburgh Festival and premiered by Leon Fleisher (who at that time had lost the use of his right hand). It is a strenuous, virtuosic piece which nonethless manages to achieve a remarkably luminous sound. Saxton's Piano Sonata is the earliest piece on the disc, dating from 1981 it was inspired by the bi-centenary of Bartok's birth that year. It is a single-movement, 10 minute piece, more obviously serial than the Chacony, creating something intense and concentrated.
Saxton's Hortus Musicae, Book 1 was written for Clare Hammond and commission by Ian Ritchie for the 2013 City of London Festival. It consists of five pieces which examine various metaphysical gardens, The Garden of Dreams, The Garden of Time, The Singing Garden, the Infinte Garden, the Garden Dances. Saxton is adept at creating complex yet magical sound-worlds, the very transparency of the writing adding to the luminous quality. These gardens are by turns rhythmic, dramatic, light-filled, spare and meditative, and dancing, each different but each have a very particular quality which helps to define Saxton's art.
Hortus Musicae, Book 2 was similarly written for Clare Hammond, this time premiered at the 2016 Presteigne Festival where Saxton was composer in residence. The suite consists of seven pieces, The Flowers appear on the Earth, Light on the Water Garden, The Garden of Changing Perspective, Beech Bank (a la recherche), Light on the Hedgerows, The Garden at Dusk, Hortus Animae Alis Fugacis. The gardens here are perhaps more descriptive, but Saxton uses a remarkable number of musical means to explore his ideas.
Textures are by turns dramatic, dazzling, formal, and rhythmic, yet always magical. In Beech Bank he combines his meditation on memories of his grand-parents' house with remembered fragments of Haydn, Chopin and Donizetti floating out of the window, a magical and evocative experience. And the suite ends with a dazzling sort-of fuge.
The final work on the disc, Lullaby for Rosa was written in 2016 for Clare Hammond's new daughter Rosa.
The CD includes and excellent introductory essay by Saxton which combines discussion of his musical background and influences with information about the music on the disc.
Throughout Clare Hammond plays with virtuosity, power and delicacy, and is clearly in sympathy with Saxton's rather magical sound-world. But that does not mean that this is aetherial and New Age, quite the contrary and Hammond finds bravura moments and dark corners in the music too. Each of the Hortus Musicae suites forms a satisfying piece (and Saxton has carefully constructed the pitch relationships between the movements), but together they make a striking whole.'
'A winning feature of these two delightful chamber scores is the fluency of Ed Hughes’s piano writing. This perception is amply confirmed in the two remaining items, both of which feature solo piano (judiciously accompanied by live electronics in the concluding Night Music). Clare Hammond is currently one of the go-to pianists for new British piano music and she gives a mesmerising account of Hughes’s new score for Alexeieff and Parker’s classic animation of Le Nez. The haunting opening townscape is accompanied by neo-baroque toccata-like figurations. When the nose is abandoned in the snow next to the sentry-box the score takes on a serene, if enigmatic quality, whereas the grandeur of Kazan Cathedral is matched to a kind of ersatz salon music. There is a darkness to this score, which is perfectly apt for the ironic sense of menace that permeates the visuals throughout.
Hughes’s score for Le Nez is played with real care and affection by Ms Hammond; its gracefully cascading notes fall gratefully under her fingers and beguile one’s ears as much as the monochrome images haunt one’s mind.'
Full review available here.
'As both composer and teacher, Robert Saxton has been a familiar figure on the British new music scene for the past four decades, often to be seen cutting a distinctive figure in the audience at contemporary concerts. Born in 1953, his musical gifts were apparent early on. He was informally mentored by none less than Britten, before more formal studies with Elisabeth Lutyens (whose music he has consistently championed), Robin Holloway, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Luciano Berio. His early musical experiences were shaped by the distinctive programming of the BBC Third Programme in the 1960s, and among the discernible influences on his emerging musical style were the Second Viennese School (especially Webern and Berg), Bartók, Carter and Tippett. Several discs of Saxton’s music have appeared over the years, notably on the NMC label, but Toccata Classics are to be applauded for this first disc devoted to his music for solo piano.
Among the key elements of Saxton’s musical style are its clearly graspable, goal-oriented formal structure; a tonal/harmonic background (often around a single pitch), with more or less complex middleground and foreground (surface), and shifting perspectives; a penchant for bell-like sonorities; and dance-like qualities, often as an expression of Saxton’s Jewish roots. His music combines formal and technical rigour with an imaginative and engaging soundworld, while encompassing a gradual stylistic shift towards more outwardly tonal surfaces.
Pianist Clare Hammond has a close relationship with Saxton’s music. Her disc opens with the Chacony for Piano Left Hand (1988), the work with which she first impressed the composer. It was originally commissioned by Oliver Knussen for Leon Fleisher (who at that time had lost the use of his right hand), and here it receives a radiant performance, making light of its formidable technical demands with playing that combines purpose and animation.
The main works on the disc are the Sonata for Piano (1981) and the two books of Hortus Musicae (2013 / 2015). The Sonata is gesturally similar to the Chacony, but is formally more ambitious. Cast in a single movement, it recalls the background influence of both Berg and Bartók, and is every bit as compelling in this exceptionally assured account. Its 11-minute span seems not a moment too long, and (like all good sonatas) it seems to capture a whole world in miniature, building to a memorable close.
Hammond herself is the dedicatee of the Hortus Musicae (‘Garden of Music’), and her readings carry a special authority. The five movements of the first Book feel more akin to studies, and they successively explore dreams, time, singing, infinity and dance. Particularly striking are the insistent repeated tone that frames ‘Hortus Temporis’, the meditative mood of ‘Hortus Infinitatis’, and the ecstatic feel of ‘Saltatio Hortensis’. Book 2 comprises seven movements (the twelve movements of the two books are organised around the twelve tones of the chromatic scale), and they seem to have a more discursive, narrative feel about them. Highlights include the luminous ‘Light on the Water Garden’, with its shimmering figuration, and ‘Beech Bank (à la recherche)...’, whose snatches of Haydn, Chopin and Donizetti are incorporated with a facility reminiscent of Saxton’s teacher Berio. The final movement is an unorthodox fugue whose title (which translates as ‘The Garden of the Swift-Winged Spirit’) suggests both flight and chase, its ending gradually receding from the listener.
Proceedings are brought to a close by the brief Lullaby for Rosa (2016), written as a ‘welcome’ gift for Hammond’s infant daughter. More conventionally tonal than the other works recorded here, it makes for a beguiling conclusion to a compelling disc, ideal as an introduction to Saxton’s multifaceted music, and all realised with commanding but unshowy aplomb by Clare Hammond and the Toccata Classics team. The detailed autobiographical and musical notes from Saxton himself are a considerable bonus.'
'Na początek więc Panufnik: wykonanie precyzyjne, skupione, mniej emocjonalne niż to Ewy Pobłockiej, ale też atrakcyjne.’
Click here for a translation.
'Clare Hammond übernahm souverän, einfühlsam und unaufgeregt den Klavierpart – keine leichte Aufgabe, ist „Equinox“ doch ürsprünglich für die Begleitung mit großem Orchester vorgesehen.’
Click here for a translation.
'I first encountered Kenneth Hesketh‘s Horae at its world première at the 2013 Cheltenham Music Festival. Then, nestled alongside music by Szymanowski and Satie (the concert fitting titled ‘Greek Piano Odyssey’), Clare Hammond’s account of Hesketh’s twelve miniatures was dazzling. It was also my first encounter with Hammond’s playing, and the virtuosic intricacy of her performance genuinely took my breath away (this was before I had started writing about Cheltenham concerts; the review would have been positively incandescent). Now subtitled “(pro Clara)”, Horae is just as impressive in Hammond’s recording of it, released last year by BIS. In Greek mythology there are various groups of Horae, the goddesses responsible for aspects of time and the seasons; Hesketh’s inspiration is the most obscure set of twelve, governing the periods of the day: Auge, Anatolê, Mousikê, Gymnastikê, Nymphê, Mesembria, Sponde, Elete, Aktê, Hesperis, Dysis and Arktos. Hesketh’s piano writing fuses a contemporary mindset with a distinct romantic sensibility, such that, despite its forays into apparent opulence and/or impressionism, it always demands serious clarity from the pianist. This is one Hammond’s greatest skills: whether negotiating streams of overlapping liquid filigree or frantic, cascading chatter, the music consistently sounds as though cut by a laser, sometimes so brilliantly precise that it sounds almost eye-watering. On balance, Hesketh favours a mixture of introversion and close examination of material rather than more flashy displays of performance, and it’s in these miniatures – no shorter than the others, yet somehow ‘smaller’ – that Horae attains its greatest heights of expressive magnitude. The fifth movement, marked “like the splash and suspension of water droplets”, fully lives up to that description, occupied with an interesting interplay between torrential passages that swallow up everything and apparent zooms-in to scrutinise pristine individual pitches floating in space. The eleventh movement (“…lapping, with low sounds”) is wonderfully slow-burning despite only lasting three minutes, seemingly about to become imposing from its lugubrious beginnings but instead holding itself in check, with a fabulous sense of inner conviction/direction while remaining, somehow, unpredictable. Those who prefer their pianism with more outgoing velocity will find much to relish in some of the other movements, but for my money, it’s in these quieter, reflective spaces that Hesketh taps into something really magical as well as personal. The disc also includes three earlier works of Hesketh’s (from 2002 and 2008) that sit well alongside Horae. The piano transcription of Notte Oscura struggles to live up to the potency of its orchestral origins (as part of Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat), but Through Magic Casements and the Three Japanese Miniatures are strong pieces, the former in particular, displaying a kind of ‘sweaty’ demeanour, caught up in a swirling, feverish intensity that morphs into stroppy staccati before eventually mellowing out. Hesketh and Hammond are clearly a brilliantly-suited double act.'
'The importance of Kenneth Woods’s initiative [in commissioning nine new Symphonies to be premiered over several years] is greatly significant, and to judge by Philip Sawyers’s Third Symphony the plan has got off to an excellent start. We badly need intelligent and engrossing music by contemporary composers, and as the series gets under way we must hope succeeding works turn out to be as important as this.
Nor is this all: the programme contained four works, three of which were by Sawyers (born 1951), so before his latest Symphony was heard those unfamiliar with the composer’s work had an opportunity to become acquainted with his traditionally-based language.
The opening Fanfare – the players up in the Gallery – is no thirty-second piece of flummery, but a serious opening statement, reminiscent in intent of Havergal Brian’s Fanfare for the Orchestral Brass – in the way of being a serious piece, requiring the audience to pay attention; and it was a large audience, remarkably so – much taken by the character and nature of the music.
The brass Fanfare made a suitable opening not just to the concert but by way of prelude in that Woods indicated no applause before Songs of Loss and Regret began. If the Fanfare (2016) declared the composer’s serious nature, this song-cycle from the year before confirmed it – as the title implied. It is a cycle commissioned by Adrian Farmer to mark the centenary of World War One, and the texts include Wilfred Owen’s poem Futility. This is a brave choice, as Britten sets it in his War Requiem (“Move him into the sun...”) yet is one from a selection of poetry of the highest quality (Housman, Tennyson, Gray, the Apocrypha and William Morris) on which the work is founded.
Sawyers’s song-cycle is a masterpiece: I have no hesitation in claiming that on just the one hearing. The lack-of-variety implication that the overall title may suggest is disabused by two things: the quality of the settings, threaded by a unifying motif which appears in various forms, and the consequential sense of symphonic structure in the growing mood of loss, from numbing shock to anger at what has been lost, the emotion no longer constant.
Quite apart from these structural cohesions, the writing for soprano is very fine, as is that for the string orchestra (Sawyers is a violinist), and a considerable compliment was paid to the composer by the exceptional April Fredrick who sang superbly throughout without a score. For an artist of this quality to memorise the music is itself an indication of her view of the work’s stature. The ESO and Woods were flawless partners.
It was a stroke of masterly planning to end the first half with Mozart’s D-minor Piano Concerto, given a notably fine and sensitive account by Clare Hammond. Throughout, hers was a reading of subtlety and high perception – the tone set from the very beginning by Woods and enhanced by her first entry, which was a perfect continuation of the musical thought moving to another plane.
Philip Sawyers’s Symphony No.3 is scored for classical-sized orchestra and is in four movements; such a tradition has long since ceased to be frequently encountered – almost as infrequently-encountered as a new Symphony. If one is convinced on a single hearing that the song-cycle is a masterpiece, then the thrilling account of the forty-minute Symphony proved equally convincing.
Sawyers is a natural symphonist, one whose impressive technical mastery not only comes from his practical experience as an orchestral player (vide Carl Nielsen and Carlo Martelli), but also through by-passing what one might have considered to be a natural post-Mahlerian intensity of rhetorical contrasts. Sawyers achieves coherence through the compelling effect of his sustained writing, entirely without eclecticism, and remarkably taking on, in the Finale, a fugato coda which is itself wholly convincing as the work surges to its magnificent ending.
Throughout, Sawyers frustrates our expectations in a wholly natural and deeply musical manner, reminding this listener of Keats’s comment that if poetry does not come as naturally as leaves on a tree it had better not come at all. This Symphony, like the song-cycle, is a masterpiece; its form will surprise no-one but what Sawyers expresses within it is remarkably original and wholly compelling. The performance was of quite gripping quality and commitment, the ESO a splendid ensemble of musicians indeed.'
'Continuing with Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor was a stroke of programming genius, the D minor tonality of the bittersweet first movement gently nudging the collective mood out of the dour ending to the cycle. Clare Hammond gave a robust and muscular reading, ideal for the reverberant St John’s acoustic, and Woods followed suit with appropriately dramatic and engaged accompaniment. Hammond has a rounded and firm tone, solid but lively, and always nimble enough to switch in an instant from Mozart’s chordal melodic statements to his dancing filigree runs.'
'It’s a real pleasure to listen to Kenneth Hesketh’s piano music, played with such dedication by Clare Hammond, and superbly recorded, too. Opening with Through Magic Casements (2008), it is clear that Hesketh’s music carries a vivid narrative as well as a consummate use of the instrument in terms of colours and dynamics.
The big work here, albeit in twelve movements, is Horae (pro clara), completed in 2012 for Hammond, and with each section given alluring/intriguing Italian markings followed by in-English descriptions, such as “as fleet as the tiniest humming bird”, “like the splash and suspension of water droplets” and “impishly sardonic”. If the music, when taken as a whole, is volatile – from the greatest delicacy to volcanic outbursts, from the slowest to the fastest – and stylistically in what might be described as ‘modern’ in expression, I suggest that this cycle is no more of a challenge than may be found in Ravel’s Miroirs (or, advancing from that, Messiaen), and just as suggestive and as picturesque. I responded positively to the forty-two minutes and shall return with keen anticipation, further delights to discover. This “book of hours” flies by.
I shall also revisit with equal keenness both Notte Oscura and the Japanese Miniatures (all from 2002). The former is a transcription of an interlude from Hesketh’s Gogol-inspired opera, The Overcoat, chilly yet darkly beautiful, while the Miniatures are also a transformation of earlier, if ongoing, material, from The Record of Ancient Matters, a puppet ballet. As prescribed for the piano, ‘Temple Music’, ‘The Cradle Rocks’ and ‘Little Bumbuku’ feed the imagination and satisfy the intellect.
Kenneth Hesketh (born 1968 in Liverpool) is a composer whose music is well-worth catching – as this handsome BIS release demonstrates, and he has his perfect partner in Clare Hammond.'
'George Fenton has composed over 130 film and television scores for directors such as Richard Attenborough, Nicholas Hytner, Stephen Frears and Terry Gilliam, and fifteen for Ken Loach films including I, Daniel Blake, his latest. Fenton can move from the epic in Gandhi to the comic in Groundhog Day with equal facility. He was featured in the latest of the Philharmonia at the Movies series and introduced his work from the podium with film extracts and stills projected on a screen above the stage.
Stage Beauty, directed by Richard Eyre, about the Restoration actor Ned Kynaston, was the overture, a Handelian pastiche of slowly rising intensity and with weighty playing from strings and brass, followed by Anna and the King, the 1999 film with Jodie Foster – or The King and I minus Rodgers & Hammerstein – with Clare Hammond providing a touching lament to describe the moral plight of Anna.
The Lady in the Van was the centre-point of the first half. Alan Bennett opened with a hilarious account of his first visit to the Royal Festival Hall as a schoolboy during the 1951 Festival of Britain with a teacher who complained about the avant-garde programme, including music by Wolf-Ferrari (Susanna’s Secret) and Holst (St Paul’s Suite)! Bennett then described his relationship with the formidable homeless woman Miss Sheppard (Maggie Smith in the movie) who stayed outside his house in Camden for fifteen years.
Hammond impersonated the young Miss Sheppard when she studied under Alfred Cortot in Paris. Fenton’s score is a model of eclecticism and understated effectiveness. Chopin and Schubert are skilfully integrated into the score, and Hammond played the slow movement from Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 with appealing delicacy. The waltz associated with Miss Sheppard has a touch of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites. The Philharmonia delivered fine playing with warm strings and gleaming brass, and a notably humorous contribution on tuba. Hammond added a brief and sparkling encore.
Richard Attenborough's film Shadowlands (1993) Following the interval Fenton delivered a sweeping account of the Main Theme of Shadowlands, directed by Richard Attenborough, which does much to underpin the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
Alan Bennett returned to read ‘Hymn’ from his stage-work Untold Stories. It is a prose poem spoken to Fenton’s music, commissioned by the Medici Quartet, memoirs that recall Bennett’s musical education within a family that took music from the radio, church services and concerts in Leeds Town Hall. Bennett’s disappointment at being unable to master the violin is vividly recounted and ended with a bleak description of local memorials to the First World War dead, magnified by Fenton’s orchestral version which ranges from the hymn-like to echoes of Delius and George Butterworth. Bennett’s droll narration became increasingly moving and Sarah Oakes provided finely turned violin solos. Bennett’s horrendous efforts at learning the violin were painfully rendered by the orchestra and his father’s comments on double-bass players provoked considerable mirth, not least from the musicians.
Fenton’s score to the 2005 computer-animated film Valiant started with a ringing brass fanfare and there followed a rousing march. His music for the 1990 Memphis Belle was surprisingly matched with footage of William Wyler’s 1944 documentary Memphis Belle: Story of a Flying Fortress combined with material from German aerial cameras and for once the image overawed the sound although one noted the soaring theme for strings and brass.
Fenton is also known for his soundtracks to nature documentaries and an extract from his latest, Predators, was previewed before its presentation in the IMAX format. The viewer is able to engage with the natural world without commentary; the strange majesty of the blue whale was matched with lithe and supple music of tranquillity. The Philharmonia strings, especially the cellos, were notable. Fenton’s encore was ‘Hoedown’ from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the Philharmonia at its unbuttoned best.'
'The first of several important festival commissions was featured in an afternoon solo recital given on 26 August in St Andrew’s Church by pianist Clare Hammond. Michael Berkeley’s Haiku took the form of a series of sharply etched vignettes inspired by the contrasting movement of various birds encountered in the Welsh Marches. Astutely arranged, these glinting shards of material juxtaposed darting, hyperactive explosions of sound with more measured activity, ominously loitering. Hammond ensured that the different avian personalities represented by each of the eight movements were sharply delineated. Hence, ‘Blue Tits’ had a perkiness and agility in keeping with this staple of the garden-feeder, whilst the predatory nature of ‘Crows, Rooks and Ravens’ was invoked with playing of the utmost ferocity and vehemence.
Also on the programme was another world premiere, that of Robert Saxton’s Hortus Musicae, Book II. As in the composer’s previous collection, it consists of a number of pieces centred on a specific pitch which conjure up real, imaginary or metaphysical gardens. The sustained, chordal opening movement entitled ‘The Flowers appear on the Earth’ began in the subterranean lower depths of the keyboard and gradually ascended to the upper reaches, leading into a scintillating, vertiginous depiction of ‘The Light on the Water Garden’. After a lyrical study entitled ‘The Garden of Changing Perspectives’, which offers various transformations of its gentle melodic line, came ‘Beech Bank’ with the subtitle ‘a la recherché …’. This memento of a family holiday included subtle references to existing music, including works by Chopin, Haydn and Donizetti. The allusions were subtly woven into the harmonic fabric of the piece so that they emerged from and receded back into Saxton’s own material rather than being grafted on to it. A multi-layered movement of wistful charm, it formed the emotional hub of the piece and also acted as a musical fulcrum: hence, the following ‘Light in the hedge garden’ mirrored the second movement, whilst ‘The Garden at twilight’ mirrored the third movement. The closing ‘Hortus Animae Alis Fugacis [The Garden of the Swift-Winged Spirit]’, is cast as a fugue and represents an imaginary garden of flights of the mind. It mirrors the dance which closes Book I of Hortus Musicae. These exacting studies present many difficulties for the executant but the vivid inspiration underlying the score ensures that the notes communicate directly to the listener. Hammond, the dedicatee of both Books, rendered this new collection with poetry and flair.
Framing the recital were Henri Dutilleux’s Au gré des ondes and Igor Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The six miniatures of the former were crisply articulated with wit and point whilst in the latter Hammond brought a keen sense of colour and purpose to the bravura writing with its starkly contrasting episodes. ...
An afternoon recital by oboist Emily Pailthorpe and pianist Clare Hammond brought more instrumental prowess at the service of worthwhile repertoire. Delightfully flowing accounts of sonatas by Poulenc and Dutilleux framed a sequence of recent English works. Robert Saxton’s Arias for oboe and piano is a short, songlike piece in five sections in which both protagonists explores the ramifications of the opening material in tandem and in extended solos. Dating from 1977, it’s a comparatively early piece but as ever with this composer every note was held to account and made to justify its place in the convincing overall scheme.
Winter Music by Thomas Hyde required a change of instrument as Pailthorpe swapped her oboe for a cor anglais. It was inspired by short song setting words by the poet Kathleen Raine about angels which is quoted in full at the end. Both players had the measure of its mellow evanescence.
Jointly commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Presteigne Festival, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade’s Ravens’ Cage cast an uneasy spell over the audience with its halting persistence. It offers an uncomfortable depiction of the Victorian public warily eyeing the predatory inhabitants of the aviary in their cramped conditions at London Zoo. The oboe’s sharply executed clucking and chirruping sounds conjures up the predatory birds and the piano stalked balefully, lurking in the lower depths of the keyboard. The piece as a whole has much to say about voyeurism and a general lack of understanding of ‘the other’ which, sad to say, has an all-too-contemporary resonance. This remarkable slice of exoticism and insight is the product of an individual creative talent well worth following.
Clare Hammond took centre stage for Robert Saxton’s Chacony for Piano, Left Hand. It began tentatively and enigmatically but soon grew in power and resilience into a brilliant, bravura study culminating in a passage where the material was pounded out with the greatest vehemence. Some of the initial material was recalled in the closing bars, though this time rendered with assured brilliance. Hammond’s solid technique ensured a virtuosic account but there was also sensitivity and precision in her considered approach to the score. ...
Clare Hammond appeared as soloist in David Matthews’s charming and classically proportioned Piano Concerto. A forthright opening movement in loose sonata form made judicious use of string pizzicatos and harmonics. There followed an insouciant tango and a poignant slow blues which were thematically related. The finale boasts a ‘big tune’ for its secondary material which, in time-honoured fashion, receives lavish treatment on its recapitulation. The concerto ends with grace and delicacy on a tantalising question mark. Hammond was a model interpreter, her crisp articulation and firm structural sense real assets in this urbane, quixotic piece.'
'Kenneth Hesketh, one of the UK's most vibrant voices, has a brand of modernism that reveals true love for sound itself, and in the sure hands of Clare Hammond, Hesketh's sure voice shines powerfully forth. The major work is the 42-minute, 12-movement Horae (pro Clara) ('Breviary for Clare') written for Hammond. Suffused with beauty, this is highly evocative and fragile (as marking such as 'as fleet as a humming bird' and 'like intertwining chime clocks' indicate). Perhaps Hammond could have given even more to the contrastive 'maniaco ed instabile' section, but it seems a small point in the majesty of this performance. Inspired by Keats' Ode to a Nightingle, Through Magic Casements is an elusive reaction to the original, while Notte Oscura, a transcription from Hesketh's opera The Overcoat, is granitically gestural. The concluding Japanese Miniatures are far from miniature in heft, despite the charming stories they tell. A significant release.'
'Robert Saxton was the composer-in-residence at this year’s Presteigne festival. Eight of his works were included in the six days of concerts, and the festival finale, conducted by George Vass, began with the premiere of one of them, a shapely study for string orchestra, The Resurrection of the Soldiers.
The title comes from a painting by Stanley Spencer, the final panel in the sequence he painted for Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire. In a sense, the 12-minute piece does move from the rootless uncertainty of the opening to the understated, slightly uneasy affirmation of the close, but in performance the extra-musical programme seems less significant than the clear, tonal plotting of the piece itself. A slow introduction builds to a climax before giving way to a strenuous central fugue, which in turn subsides into the final slow resolution, with textures that seem increasingly part of the long British tradition of string music, and perhaps recall Tippett more than anyone else.
Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor, conductor Rudolf Barshai’s string-orchestra version of the Eighth String Quartet, came at the opposite end of the evening, while in between were pieces featuring two of the 2016 festival’s resident instrumentalists. Clare Hammond was the nimble soloist in David Matthews’s attractive and modestly unassertive Piano Concerto, while oboist Emily Pailthorpe was featured in Richard Blackford’s wistfully haunting The Better Angels of Our Nature, which takes a phrase from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural presidential address in 1861 as the starting point for a meditation on loss and remembrance.'
'The other piano recital of the afternoon was more conventional, but only slightly. Clare Hammond offered a programme of five works, all of which married musical invention with the evocation of strange imaginary worlds. Two of them were written to accompany silent films. One of these, an amusing fantasy from 1928 entitled Hände (Hands), had undertones of comedy and eroticism, in the way its cast of dancing hands flirted and mingled... Ed Hughes’s The Nose, written to accompany a 1963 animated version of Gogol’s satirical short story, was much wittier, while Thomas Adès’s Mazurkas, brilliantly despatched by Hammond, sounded like Chopin mazurkas seen in a distorting mirror. The most striking piece was Piers Hellawell’s Piani, Latebre, which took conventional pianistic bric-a-brac like scales and tremolandos and made them seem rich and strange.'
'Clare Hammond’s early evening performance was far more conventional but in its own way just as dramatic. Three of the five works she tackled concerned themselves with inspirations from drama, with respect to both literature and film. The exceptions were the three Mazurkas by Thomas Adès and the equally tripartite Piani, Latebre by Piers Hellawell, each of which explored more purely musical ideas. The Mazurkas do what Adès does best—arguably what Adès always does, in multifarious ways—seeking poignancy of expression through convoluted evocations and allusions of earlier styles and idioms. A kind of oblique, never entirely comfortable wistfulness if you will, and in these three short deconstructions of the mazurka Adès passes through lovely veils of impressionism and cerebral, slowly unravelling processes. Hellawell on the other hand built his music upon the juxtaposition of gestures, having a similar trajectory to that of Adès; a melodic sensibility set within bursts of filigree and ornamentation (very beautiful) led to the sensation of making brisk progress through clouds of turbulence, dissipating into a pensive contemplation pitting clarity against density, closing in relative darkness. Hammond’s ability to tease out the details of Hellawell’s complex textures was as riveting as the music itself, her fingers regularly becoming a blur...
Kenneth Hesketh achieved something subtle and telling in Hände, composed to accompany Stella F. Simon and Miklos Blandy’s remarkable 1928 film Hände: Das Leben und die Liebe eines Zärtlichen Geschlechts (Hands: the Life and Loves of the Gentler Sex). Hesketh had also reworked the film to aid his dramatic intentions, which considering his previous work was impressively abstract. Finnissy-like registral extremes and rhythmic uncertainty at the start yield to lengthy tracts of texture–including layers made from chords, and passages of dense counterpoint–with some delightful literal moments, such as string fingertip twangings coinciding with hands almost touching; hands and/or arms being held in place whereupon the piano becomes fixed on repeated notes; and a recurring idea on small bells, the music momentarily transcending the piano at which point the action in the film is halted and its exposure strained, as though subject to an invisible external force. Despite these fascinating devices, Hesketh to a large extent handles the ebb and flow of the drama simply through intensity of dynamic, marshalling his material as though with an organ swell pedal. Without ever making the sense of narrative concrete, it nonetheless felt uncannily moving and considerably longer than its mere 15-minute duration. Hesketh’s earlier work Notte Oscura completed the program, a rather sumptuous melding of harmonic movement within an unstable environment (faintly redolent of George Benjamin’s Piano Sonata), at the heart of which a staunchly lyrical voice is militated against and endlessly modulated by trills and tremolandi. Hammond gave splendid ambiguous shade to the work’s conclusion, rendering the nature of its peace entirely questionable. She’s easily one of the most compelling interpreters of contemporary music, filling her performances with understated fire and crystal-clear virtuosity.'
'Two events explored the relationship between piano music and film which would have been only two familiar with cinema-goers a century ago. Pianist Clare Hammond performed music written by Kenneth Hesketh to accompany a surreal film Hände: Das Leben und die Liebe eines zärtlichen Geschlechts (Hands: The life and loves of the gentler sex) made in 1927-28 by Stella F Simon and Miklos Blandy. In the film hands grasp each other, push against each other, dance together, creep along slowly in a manner and generally assume a life of their own detached from human beings creating an eerie feel that is emphasised by Hesketh’s dark score.
The other film on the programme was The Nose, a cartoon film based on Nikolai Gogol’s story of an official whose nose goes missing and develops a life of its own with a score by Ed Hughes. Although made in 1963 the film makers Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker had created a work in black and white film which was reminiscent of the early days of cinema. Transparent harmonies matched the shimmering patterns of life in the film, while the piano adopted a more percussive stance in the more grotesque and humorous moments. Clare Hammond’s piano playing throughout was superlative.'
'Der britische Komponist Kenneth Hesketh (geb. 1968) schreibt zwar für die unterschiedlichsten Besetzungen, betrachtet aber nach eigener Aussage das Klavier als „sein“ Instrument, weswegen er auch immer wieder Stücke für Klavier komponierte, die mittlerweile sogar eine ganze CD füllen. Clare Hammond, mit der er schon länger zusammenarbeitet und der auch das fast dreiviertelstündige Werk Horae gewidmet ist, hat nun die zwischen 2002 und 2012 entstandenen Werke versammelt. In der Tat sind diese Stücke ausgesprochen pianistisch erdacht, verlangen dem Interpreten einiges ab, liegen aber gut in der Hand und klingen auch einnehmend. Zumeist beschränkt sich Hesketh auf das „normale“ Spiel auf den Tasten, nur an einigen exponierten Stellen muß der Interpret in den Corpus des Instruments hineingreifen. Wenn der Komponist fast durchweg die volle Registerbreite des Klaviers beansprucht, so bleiben die Werke doch stets klangvoll und harmonisch interessant; Clare Hammond gelingt es ausgezeichnet, die wechselnde Klangfülle transparent und technisch einwandfrei herauszuarbeiten. Da die Stücke bildkräftige Titel tragen, hätte man sich einige Male einen etwas charakteristischeren Klang gewünscht; Hesketh bildet gewissermaßen in jedem Stück alles ab, was die Klaviatur nur hergibt... Die Interpretin vermittelt jedenfalls einen Werkeindruck, der weder konventionell noch in einem spröden Sinne avantgardistisch ist, sondern stets die klanglichen Reize betont.’
Click here for a translation.
'Pianiste de formation, Kenneth Hesketh est surtout connu pour ses compositions pour orchestre, dont Sir Simon Rattle, Vasily Petrenko et Oliver Knussen, entre autres, se sont faits les défenseurs. Les quatre œuvres pour piano présentées sur ce disque, magnifiquement interprétées par la dédicataire de la principale pièce, Clare Hammond, s’étalent comme un grand paysage liquide qui, malgré l’indexation, poussent l’auditeur à les écouter d’une traite tant cette musique est prenante. Captation sonore superlative qui éclaire l’aisance avec laquelle Clare Hammond maîtrise les complexités de ce programme.'
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'De la génération des compositeurs britanniques quasi quinquagénaires, on retient principalement, de notre côté de la Manche, la figure de Thomas Adès. Julian Anderson est connu d'un cercle bien plus restreint. Quant à Kenneth Hesketh, on ne se souvient guère que d'un passage de comète au festival Présences au tournant du millénaire, défendu par Oliver Knussen et le London Sinfonietta. C'est dommage, car Hesketh compte parmi ceux qui réussissent à trouver un équilibre fertile entre solidité de la construction et libre épanchement du discours.
Ses Three Japanese Miniature (2002) résonnent d'une subtile atonalité polarisée, au sein de laquelle se dessinent des harmonies dont les reflets modaux peuvent de façon subliminale évoquer Messiaen, Dutilleux ou Takemitsu. Le plus récent Through Magic Casements (2008) est typique du jaillissement permanent, de l'élément fluide qui traverse toute la musique pour piano du compositeur, lointain écho de la virtuosité lisztienne façon Jeux d'eau. Lorsqu'elle sort les griffes, Clare Hammond est impressionnante.
Conçues comme un livre d'heures dont le titre porte le dédicace à l'interprète, les douze miniatures de Horae (pro clara) confirment un goût pour le raffinement harmonique. Cette musique virtuose et cristalline, que Clare Hammond restitue dans toute sa fraîcheur, scintille comme une fontaine en plain soleil (V), se fait l'écho stylisé d'oiseaux (II, X), et nous rappelle l'intérêt particulier de Hesketh pour les automates fragiles (VIII). Quelques pincements de cordes dans l'instrument et autres balayages des cordes évoquent immanquablement Crumb. Rythmes erratiques et discours haché évoluent parfois vers une déferlante énergétique. La tension n'est jamais loin des (assez rares) accalmies.
Hammond est l'ambassadrice tout indiquée d'un piano à l'alliage quasi oxymorique de densité et de clarté. Ce n'est pourtant là qu'une facette d'un compositeur à découvrir.'
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'Kenneth Hesketh, born in Liverpool in 1968, composes music of delicate luminosity, as the Horae, written for the pianist Clare Hammond, shows. A dozen miniatures, put together like a medieval breviary, their subtitles give a sense of their refinement: “as fleet as the tiniest humming bird”; “like an evening full of the linnet’s wings”, “like the splash and suspension of water droplets”. But it’s not all in that vein of extreme subtlety. Bursts of colour and darkness offer contrast and rigour, virtuosically handled by Hammond, a star interpreter of contemporary music and recent recipient of the RPS Awards Young Artist 2016 category. Well worth investigating.'
'The CD of Kenneth Hesketh's instrumental compositions released three years ago (NMC, 7/13) offered a well-balanced sequence of colourful musical canvases, and its mouthful of a title - 'Wunderkammer (konzert)' - coupled with a collection of Joseph Cornell's 'found objects' on the cover, signalled Hesketh's fascination with miniature mechanisms and the magical, sometimes disturbing dramas their confrontations can create.
Magic and mystery, along with clock-like mechanics, feature again in the compositions for piano brought together on this new disc from BIS. It is extremely well recorded, with Clare Hammond (for whom the most substantial piece was written) playing throughout with a winning combination of technical subtlety and expressive spontaneity in music that presents plenty of challenges to the performer.
The 40-minute Horae (pro clara) is an ambitious transformation of the idea of the Book of Hours into a sequence of 12 movements that can be played in any order, and therefore avoid the conventional structural process of a steadily building dramatic momentum. There are contrasts between quasi-Impressionistic figuration and more forceful, fragmented states, reaching what sound like brief outbursts of sheer rage in the final section. Overall, however, the emphasis is on a kind of tranced meditativeness that is more immediately effective in the shorter pieces that frame Horae (pro clara). In particular, the two compositions from 2002, Notte Oscura and Three Japanese Miniatures, are outstanding in the way that what Hesketh has described as his tendency to 'scepticism and a sense of pessimism' keeps the individual pieces veering away from predictability while making very satisfying wholes. The last of the Miniatures, the only truly scherzo-like music on the disc, provides a notably effective close.'
'There’s a curious but compelling amalgam at the heart of this richly satisfying recital. Simultaneously concentrated and relaxed, Kenneth Hesketh’s music carries itself with all the poetic intensity of a Haiku. In newly anointed RPS Young Artist Clare Hammond, he’s found the perfect interpreter, her meticulously measured playing encapsulating Hesketh’s intelligently constructed, emotionally loaded phrases with flair and finesse. The title track is a ‘miniature book of hours’, its 12 evocative parts marked by densely argued technical demands, a broad colour palette and a challenging variety of articulation, the overall effect one of satisfyingly labyrinthine mystery and complexity. Fragments and paraphrases from other works in progress, the Three Japanese Miniatures show Hesketh thinking aloud in now tentative, now bold gobbets of still-forming material. Vivid exercises in atmosphere are the hymning of Keats in Through Magic Casements and Notte Oscura, which conjures the fierceness of a Russian winter to chilling effect. Excellent sound adds to the attractions of a disc with much to recommend it.'
Read more at Classical Ear.
'Pianist Clare Hammond writes of Liverpudlian composer Kenneth Hesketh’s ‘fierce intelligence’ in her sleeve notes. He’s not yet a household name, but he deserves to be: the music on this handsomely produced disc is strikingly original. His mentors include Oliver Knussen and the late Henri Dutilleux, both composers with fastidious ears. Hesketh’s dense, complex textures never sound too congested, and many of the heavier passages have an incredible resonance – presumably harking back to the composer’s early years as a chorister in Liverpool’s vast Anglican Cathedral. Hesketh mentions the space’s echoing ‘aural glow’ as a powerful influence on his development as a composer, though implying that writing for piano allows him to hear exactly what he needs to hear, without the ‘chordal constructs and sonorities’ mushily evaporating into the ether.
The main work here was composed for Hammond and first performed in 2013: Horae (pro clara) is a 42-minute sequence of 12 pieces, a ‘miniature book of the hours’. The performance directions at the head of each untitled movement offer useful clues as to what to listen to: “as fleet as the tiniest humming bird” is as mercurial as you’d expect, and the ninth piece, marked “impishly sardonic”, sounds exactly that, three minutes of impetuous snarling and foot-stamping. Each blustery snort is balanced by a moment of solemn reflection, and the stark finale (“for now we see through a glass, darkly”) offers us a downbeat close.
Hesketh’s Notte Oscura is a transcription of music from an opera based on Gogol's The Overcoat – the original’s melancholy is very audible, though one misses Gogol’s black humour. Three Japanese Miniatures are ‘fragments and paraphrases’ from an orchestral work, the last of which closes with a touching musical expiration, depicting a kettle gradually falling still. Hammond, the recent winner of a Royal Philharmonic Society award, plays magnificently, giving Hesketh the advocacy he deserves. BIS’s production values are predictably high – if you buy one disc of contemporary piano music this year, why not try this one?'
'Kenneth Hesketh has yet to become a true household name but he has been forging a respected career for many years, and has appeared before on the pages of MWI in an interview with Christopher Thomas back in 2007, and two albums: Theatre of Attractions and Wunderkammer. His “fierce intelligence, breadth of knowledge and the incisiveness of his imagination” is brought together with Clare Hammond’s remarkable pianism on this BIS SACD, and what seems likely to become one of the contemporary piano music records of the year.
Don’t be put off by the fistfuls of notes that open the programme. Through Magic Casements may take a couple of listens, but its references to the images in Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale provide enough clues to the contrasts between “the vibrant song of the nightingale with [the poet’s] own fevered state.” Mix birdsong and piano and there will be inevitable comparisons with Messiaen, but if you know the latter you’ll also know this is something coming from an entirely different, and not entirely comfortable place.
Carrying on with the shorter works, Notte Oscura is a transcription from a segment of Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, and while it has plenty of tremulously descriptive touches referring to “our Northern cold”, the effect is often pleasantly post-Romantic. Another collection that takes its starting points in material from another work for chamber orchestra, the Three Japanese Miniatures connect to Japanese folk tales. Descriptive and programmatic, these pieces are packed with atmosphere and drama, and for music with relatively short duration they have a feeling of momentous content and tapestry-like range of image and colour.
The main act here is Horae (pro Clara), a series of twelve short pieces written for Clare Hammond over a two-year period, and as a whole forming a “breviary or book of hours.” Clare’s booklet notes refer to the “prodigious demands” made on the performer, not only “in terms of technical proficiency and physical stamina, but also in the sheer breadth of colour, variety of articulation and the intensity of rhetoric that is required.” Hesketh has described his music as ‘detailed and labyrinthine’ and as having ‘dense textures that are lucid and transparent’, and there are few words better for getting a hold on what to expect here as a first impression. I don’t always find myself in tune with this kind of uncompromising approach as I found out with Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, but with Hesketh there is a sense of poetic contact which I miss in Finnissy. Rather than turn his pieces into lengthy tracts, Hesketh engages through compact argument. You may not always agree with this composer’s point of view in musical terms, but by the time you have gathered your wits into some kind of repost he will have wrong-footed you with a gesture or inflection of sonority and line that once again has you interested and focussed. There are pieces that refer to the poetry of Yeats, or which overtly explore the composer’s “fascination with automata and his own concept of ‘unreliable machines.’” The ninth movement has a performance instruction, ‘like intertwining chime clocks’, and it’s not hard to imagine oneself in a nocturnal and haunted factory of wilful timepieces. The longest piece is the 'Molto misterioso, desolate' twelfth, to which is added the quote ‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’. Dark, low sonorities and dynamic extremes create tensions that are not resolved by slow developments that commence in the higher registers. Slowness is challenged by passages of threatening violence and spectacular virtuosity, but this change in the landscape turns out to be a distracting detail – a golden-section carbuncle or knotted swirl in the blackened lines of a burnt stump, or the stump itself in the charred vastness of a dangerously smoking and tragic field.
With BIS’s superlative sound, Clare Hammond’s amazing performances and Kenneth Hesketh’s challenging but rewarding musical language, I am indeed sure this is destined to be one of the contemporary/piano discs of 2016.'
'Clare Hammond gives stunning performances of piano works by Kenneth Hesketh that bring out all the poetry, delicacy, power, fluency, rhythmic buoyancy and sheer virtuosity they contain, on a new release from BIS.
Pianist, Clare Hammond, who has just won the RPS Young Artist Award, which celebrates outstanding achievement in 2015, has recorded a number of Kenneth Hesketh’s piano works for a new disc just released by BIS Records.
The title of Through Magic Casements (2008) refers to Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. Indeed it opens with ripples and chirrups, iridescent phrases seen through dissonance harmonies, falling and building through some wonderful passages occasionally reminiscent of Scriabin in their harmonies and development. Later staccato phrases bring a new development of the theme before easing to allow the rippling phrases to be heard, soon finding a quiet, slowly picked out passage and a final little chirrup in the hushed coda.
The major work on this disc, Horae (Pro Clara) (Breviary for Clare) (2011/12), was written for Clare Hammond and premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013. It is a series of twelve miniatures that form a breviary or book of hours. None of the movements are titled but do have specific performance directions. The first movement is marked 'Transparente (diaphanous)' and has a gentle opening to which Clare Hammond brings a terrific clarity and delicacy. The theme is built through some wonderfully constructed passages, finding quite lovely harmonies, textures and colours.
'Velocissima assai' (as fleet as the tiniest humming bird) achieves a similar transparency of sound, with a jewel like brilliance and clarity. As it develops with hints of Messiaen, this pianist provides the most fluent and finely coloured phrases. Hesketh develops the most exquisite moments from the simplest of ideas in Semplice. Hammond’s phrasing is wonderful, creating just the right feel, building in strength before finding a hushed coda.
'Agilmente (maniaco ed instabile - with never-ceasing energy)' bursts forth in a torrent of rippling phrases, again with a terrific brilliance and clarity, this pianist revealing a fine structure as the music develops through rhythmically varying passages of great forward thrust. 'Diretto, ancora fluido (like the splash and suspension of water droplets)' opens with sudden phrases underpinned by a low chord before the music ripples gently ahead. There are more sudden dynamic outbursts with Hammond providing a terrific fluidity and power in this wonderfully descriptive music.
'Nervoso, ma dolce (flessibile)' has a gentle opening with some lovely restrained harmonies. The constant yet subtly shifting tempi perfectly caught here by this pianist. This is music of the utmost delicacy and sensibility.Capriccioso brings firm chords in the lower register overlaid by bright phrases that soon vary in tempo and rhythm before a quieter trickling passage that leads to the coda. 'Ritmico (giusto) (like intertwining chime clocks) / Flessibile' gently meanders forward with rippling phrases, bringing a fine delicacy, subtly developing and gaining in strength. Clare Hammond sets out wonderfully the overlaid musical ideas with subtle textures from the strings of the piano.
'Capriccioso (impishly sardonic)' leaps in rhythmically and playfully, jumping around full of unexpected intervals, rhythms and tempi. 'Scorrevole (ma meccanico) (like an ‘evening full of the linnet's wings’)' rippling phrases flow forward, subtly shifting in harmonies that bring a lightness and freedom. 'Indolente (...lapping, with low sounds)' opens slowly with lovely little chords that slowly increase in weight, rising and retreating with moments of delicate fluidity. The music develops more intensity, yet falls away to a quiet coda.
A motif very slowly develops in the opening of 'Molto misterioso, desolate (‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’)'. There are sudden little rhythmic skips before finding a more powerful emotion. The music returns to a quieter, gentle and thoughtful passage creating a withdrawn feeling. Hammond explores all the little delicate details before suddenly taking off in a faster passage that has sudden changes of tempi and dynamics before easing back to allow for a long dying phrase to fade. A formidable achievement by Clare Hammond in music that has by turns delicacy, brilliance, power and freedom.
Notte Oscura (2002) was written as a piano transcription of the first interlude of Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, with some additional material form the first scene of Act 1. Here the composer takes Gogol’s description of St. Petersburg’s most powerful foe – the Northern cold. Slow, low chords open, broadening into lighter phrases with little trills in the right hand as the music slowly develops. Hesketh brings a withdrawn chill to this music that develops more florid moments through a more flowing passage. Hammond shows brilliant fluency and sense of structure, building through some terrific passages of falling and rising phrases, always with a sense of underlying tension before finding a calmer coda.
Three Japanese Miniatures (2002) are fragments and paraphrases on material from a work by Hesketh for chamber orchestra, itself from a puppet ballet based on Japanese folk tales. 'Temple Music' opens with broad chords before leaping into crashing chords and fast moving phrases. There is nothing pastiche here; Hesketh brings his own individual descriptive style. There are sudden little trills and a series of repeated chords that become increasingly strong before finding a quieter use of the opening chords before a delicate, unresolved end. Ripping chords open 'The Cradle Rocks' gently and quietly, this pianist finding some lovely gentle, delicate phrases. Again it is her sensitivity to the music’s delicate phrases and harmonies that is impressive. The music later finds a slightly more flowing nature, still with hesitant phrases before building in strength only to find a gentle, delicate coda. 'Little Bumbuku' opens with a sudden brittle, staccato idea, developed through some remarkable passages of ever changing ideas, this pianist bringing the most terrific phrasing dynamics before falling to a wonderfully conceived, quiet and gentle coda.
Clare Hammond gives stunning performances that bring out all the poetry, delicacy, power, fluency, rhythmic buoyancy and sheer virtuosity contained in these striking works. She receives a first rate SACD recording that provides both tremendous clarity and a fine piano tone and there are excellent booklet notes from the pianist.'
'A stream of CDs arrives each month on our desk, with a recent eye-catching new recording from the Swedish label, BIS, which – in its clean, sharp, immaculate packaging – often champions contemporary music. Kenneth Hesketh (b. 1968) is a British composer who seems to have developed an unparalleled sound-world: a modern impressionism of unceasing invention; of suspension and movement; of layers of sound – varying from (as in the 12-movement work, Horae (PRO CLARA) (Breviary for Clare) from 2012) the sound of “the tiniest humming bird” and an “evening full of linnet’s wings” – to a desolate Molto misterioso, ‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’. Performed by Royal Philharmonic Society Award-winner, Clare Hammond (she secured this year’s prestigious RPS ‘Young Artist’ category, and is also a dedicatee of Hesketh’s work) the new disc, produced by BIS engineer, Robert Suff, must rank as one of the most thought-provoking productions of new music to have appeared in recent years.
Earlier this month, The Quarterly Review was extremely fortunate to secure a few moments in Clare’s demanding schedule for a discussion and wide-ranging interview, and we began by discussing Kenneth Hesketh. I ventured to suggest how the composer’s music was – unlike some contemporary compositions – (pleasingly) lacking in confrontational emotions, and instead, represented something more in-tune with a desire for peace and order in the human spirit – Hesketh being, to some extent, a British version of the Japanese composer and sage, Takemitsu. Clare’s response was extremely interesting: “There is a great deal of light in Kenneth’s music, and I can see your idea about Takemitsu. There is, though, also a contrast in his works, between the extreme complexity of turbulent passages, and the many sections which are lightly textured and lightly coloured.” I wondered if, as was the case with Britten who often wrote specifically with the voice of tenor, Peter Pears, in mind, that Hesketh – similarly – composed for Clare Hammond’s style and personality as an artist. “During the compositional process, Kenneth might have a clear picture of something, discussing it with me, but ultimately he writes music which can be performed by anyone. But the second work on the CD, the breviary, was written for me – with the idea that I would fully realise this clear aural picture.”
Another composer close to Clare’s heart is the Polish contemporary master, who came to settle in Britain, Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-91). Having recorded, performed and “curated” much of Panufnik’s work, the pianist sees his output as music that combines the deeply personal and the universal: “I am fascinated by the relationship between the music and the biographical points in his life: his music is actually autobiographical, a response to what has happened to him – from the Second World War, to his time in Krakow and beyond. Yet there is a lyricism, a connection with humanity and the human voice, as well as abstract theoretical reflections which would appeal to the mind of a musician and performer – for example, the way in which one work is conceived as a cycle of ‘fifths’”.
Clare also has a strong bond with overlooked contemporary British music, having performed last year at Suffolk’s William Alwyn Festival. I asked her if it was a “duty” for British musicians to champion our native composers: “Within my own work, I find many such pieces to be inspiring, and it is important for them to receive platform time. They are appealing and expressive. I feel that the English composers add diversity to our programmes, and as a result of that it’s not just a ‘duty’ to perform them. The location of the composers, such as Alwyn in Suffolk, adds a narrative to the music.” But what is Clare’s approach to the important campaign in classical music to reach out – especially to younger audiences, which – sadly – seem to have little exposure to music and the arts? In appealing in new stylistic ways to new listeners, could classical music be in danger of losing something of its magic, or its ritual? Clare continued: “As an artist, I cannot have a barrier to my audience. I must have contact with them, and I often introduce music to an audience of young people, providing a preface to what they are about to hear. A spoken introduction helps. I retain formalities, but sometimes such formalities may not have a relevance to some audiences, so I would engage with them in a different way. I find this very satisfying.”
The QR congratulates this remarkable musician on her RPS Award and we thought that it might be useful to know what plans lie ahead. As one might expect, she is in huge demand as a solo and concerto artist: “I am looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival, and in October I will be curating BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concerts for the Belfast International Arts Festival. I will also be performing in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra, but as yet the programme for the latter has not been announced.” We shall keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Autumn South Bank season…'
'The latest release from pianist Clare Hammond is a disc for BIS Records of solo piano music by British composer Kenneth Hesketh – Horae (pro clara) (2011/12), Notte Oscura (2002), Through Magic Casements (2008) and Three Japanese Miniatures (2002).
Horae (pro clara) was written for Clare Hammond following Kenneth Hesketh’s meeting with Clare at her debut recital at the Southbank Centre in 2010. They have subsequently developed a close artistic collaboration.
Clare says of Ken’s music that “it can seem overwhelming at times, yet if one engages with its textural intricacy, the scope of his extra-musical allusions, and volatile virtuosity, rich rewards lie in store”. Clare seems ideally suited to this type of repertoire. Her debut album, Piano Polyptych, containing works by Kenneth Hesketh, Julian Anderson, Piers Hellawell, Giles Swayne and Philip Grange, revealed her to be a fine advocate for contemporary piano repertoire, combining flawless technique with a sharp intellect and musical sensitivity to bring such works to life with colour, vibrancy and rhythmic precision, and totally without the self-consciousness or affectation that sometimes accompanies performances of this type of repertoire.
Kenneth Hesketh’s musical language is drawn from a broad range of stimuli, including classical architecture, medieval iconography, poetry, Bauhaus constructivism and existentialism, and these extra-musical references bring texture, structure and a wide range of moods, tempi, colour and piquancy to his music. The works presented on this disc are complex, both technically and musically, with dense textures and abrupt voltes faces between the macabre and grotesque and the delicate and poignant. What Clare Hammond does so well is to bring a sparkling clarity to the tightly-packed textures without comprising her sensitive musicality and her ability to shift seamlessly between the myriad moods and styles of the pieces.
The first work on this disc, Through Magic Casements, takes its title from Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale and much of its soundworld seems to echo the imagery of the poem with its urgent febrile passages which fade to nothing at the end.
The work which occupies most of the disc, Horae (pro clara), was premiered by Clare Hammond at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2013, and consists of twelve miniatures which as a whole form a ‘breviary’ or book of hours. The movements are not titled; instead they have evocative performance directions and some incorporate literary references. Thematic material, such as Hesketh’s fascination with machines and automata, is shared across the set, thus linking the pieces, though they can be performed in any order. Some contain dense thickets of notes and melodic lines, abrupt and plangent bass interruptions, and vibrant rhythms (VII: Capriccioso), while others comprise spare shards and delicate scurrying traceries (VI: Nervoso, ma dolce, for example).
The third work Notte Oscura (2002) is a piano transcription of the first interlude in Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, after Nikolai Gogol, and in it Hesketh highlights Gogol’s description of St Petersburg’s powerful and all-pervasive cold. The opening bass chords are perfectly judged by Clare Hammond, lending a sense of foreboding before the music moves into a more melodic passage, though the mood of menace and anxiety is never far away. Repeated tremolo notes high in the register suggest shards of ice, while the bass sonorities conjure up the vastness of the Russian landscape.
The suite Three Japanese Miniatures concludes the disc. The works are drawn from fragments and paraphrases of a larger work by Hesketh inspired by Japanese folk tales and each movement portrays a story, from a nocturnal wanderer who finds himself amid the imposing grandeur of a ruined temple to a winter sprite who takes revenge on a broken promise by taking the lives of a man and his children and finally the story of Bumbuku, a daemon who takes the form of a badger and lives in a tea kettle. The works are expressive, haunting and humorous, and, as in the previous works on this disc, Clare highlights their distinctive narratives with precise articulation and a vivid palette of musical colour.'
Read more at Cross-Eyed Pianist.
'Ensinnäkin on tunnustettava, että aikamme menestyneimpiin nuoremman polven brittisäveltäjiin lukeutuvan Kenneth Heskethin pianomusiikki on tavattoman ilmeikästä ja monikerroksista—ja että hän on Clare Hammondissa saanut pianomusiikkinsa esitaistelijaksi erittäin hienon tulkin. Levyn nimiteoksena on kaksitoistaosainen kellonlyömien sarja nimeltään Horae, alaotsikoltaan Breviary for Clare, eli sävelletty Clare Hammondille.
Hesketh osoittaa, että melko perinteisellä nykkäri-pianonsoitolla voi edelleen luoda uutta ja puhuttelevaa musiikkia.Ensisijassa puhuttelevuus syntyy musiikillisesta tarinallisuudesta: Heskethin musiikissa melko geneerisen pinnan alla liikkuu useita samanaikaisia, mutta eri tahtiin alkavia, loppuvia ja huipentuvia prosesseja; siinä on draamaa ja kerronnallisia piirteitä sekä ylipäätään monikerroksellisia sointeja. Hammond tuo nämä esiin keskittyneesti ja ihailtavan hiotusti.’
Click here for a translation.
'Composer Kenneth Hesketh (b. 1968) was born in Liverpool, and has a strong established career, composing music in many genres, including opera, orchestral and vocal music. He also trained as a pianist and percussionist, and pianist Clare Hammond, for whom he wrote the central work on her new disc of his music, points out that this is apparent in his writing for the instrument.
The disc opens with a literary inspired short work, Through Magic Casements, and draws on Keats' Ode To A Nightingale. It has a dreamlike quality, with the nightingale singing from the upper reaches of the keyboard with increasing feverishness.
Horae (pro clara) (Breviary for Clare), the most substantial work here, is a sequence of twelve short pieces, together forming a breviary, or book of hours. Hesketh employs a startling array of sonic techniques, using the extremes of the keyboard (notably in No 8) and pushing the pianist to incredibly virtuosic displays. He creates ghostly soundworlds (such as in No. 1), and has the ability to shift from evoking the 'tiniest humming bird' (No. 2), to creating disturbing, anxious moods (No. 6). In No. 8 he explores 'intertwining chime clocks' which gradually become out of sync, once again unsettling the listener. This also includes moments where the pianist has to pluck and brush the strings inside the piano. No. 10 has a darkly relentless sense of movement, 'like an evening full of the linnet's sings' (a reference to a Yeats poem). Hammond seems fearless in achieving the requirements of these incredibly challenging pieces. Despite also being somewhat challenging for the listener, when taken as a whole, this set is highly effective and offers a wide range of effects and moods.
Notte Oscura is a piano transcription of an interlude from Hesketh's opera The Overcoat, after Nikolai Gogol, and very effectively conjures up the vast icy landscape and a sense of menace to come.
The Three Japanese Miniatures that complete the disc again push the bounds of technical limits for the pianist. They are in fact fragments from a larger puppet ballet in progress, and one can immediately imagine the images of sprites and daemons conjured up here, bringing the disc to an imaginative close. If you want to hear fearless virtuosity from an expert pianist, in music that pushes the boundaries of what you might expect from the instrument, then this is highly recommended.’
'Die Klavierwerke von Andrzej und Roxanna Panufnik finden in Clare Hammond eine äußert verständige Interpretin.
Während Andrzej Panufnik (1914–1991) auf dem Tonträgermarkt mittlerweile recht gut repräsentiert ist, ist seine Tochter Roxanna Panufnik (geb. 1968) nur gelegentlich ‚Objekt der Begierde‘. Auf der vorliegenden SACD sind Vater und Tochter nunmehr als Komponisten teilweise fast untrennbar miteinander verbunden, indem nämlich Roxanna Werke ihres Vaters aufgriff und teilweise sogar ‚weiterschrieb‘. Dies betrifft vor allem 'Modlitwa' (Gebet) von 1990, das 1999 von Roxanna Panufnik um einen zweiten Teil ergänzt wurde, den sie 2013 für Klavier solo arrangierte. Eine andere Klaviertranskription ist die 'Hommage à Chopin' aus den Jahren 1949/1955, ursprünglich für Singstimme und Klavier, dann für Flöte und Kammerorchester ausgearbeitet. Roxanna Panufnik transformiert die komplexen instrumentalen Texturen kongenial in lyrisch tief innige genuine Klavierkompositionen, die von Clare Hammond mit unleugbarer Hingabe und Engagement musikalisch umgesetzt werden. Da hat jemand das Idiom von Vater und Kind gleichermaßen gut verstanden, und auch die Bookletnotizen zeugen von dem tiefen Verständnis der Pianistin für das von ihr Gespielte. Da, wie fast nicht anders zu erwarten, auch das Klangerlebnis rundum gelungen ist, sind hier Höchstwertungen kaum vermeidbar.
Das Klavier war nicht das Hauptinstrument Andrzej Panufniks, noch ist es jenes seiner Tochter. Wenn eine gut gefüllte SACD für das (bisherige) Gesamtwerk beider ausreicht, ist dies bezeichnend, bedeutet aber keine Kritik. Andrzej Panufnik hat in seinem Leben insgesamt nur drei Klavierwerke geschrieben – diese aber sind jeweils durchaus gewichtig: 'Zwölf Miniatur-Etüden' (1947, rev. 1955/64), die den Quintenzirkel von Cis mittels der Unterquint bis Gis durchquert, 'Reflections' (1968) sowie die auf der pentatonischen Skala basierende palindromisch angelegte 'Pentasonata' (1984). Musikalisch und interpretatorisch sind die drei Werke ausgesprochen anspruchsvoll, aber ebenso dankbar. Sie fordern das Instrument bis an seine Grenzen – und in der Tat sind, wenn man von einer Einschränkung sprechen muss, die extremen Register des Flügels technisch nicht ganz optimal vorbereitet (vielleicht hätte man besser keinen Steinway D nutzen sollen, sondern ein Instrument mit etwas mehr Intimität, mehr Wärme).
Roxanna Panufniks zwei Klavierkompositionen 'Second Home' (2003, rev. 2006) und 'Glo' (2002) sind von nicht so starker musikalischer Eigenart wie jene ihres Vaters. 'Second Home', eine Art Variationswerk über das polnische Volkslied 'Hejze ino, fijołecku leśny!', steht teilweise eher dem polnischen Komponisten Czesław Marek näher als der Musik des frühen 21. Jahrhunderts. 'Glo' ist eine kurze Gedenkkomposition für einen an Krebs verstorbenen Familienfreund, hier ist die musikalische Verwandtschaft zwischen Vater und Tochter durch ähnliche Harmonieverwendung offenkundig.’
Click here for a translation.
'Acclaimed pianist Clare Hammond enraptured the St George's lunchtime audience with a stunning sixty-minute set when she played a ravishing repertoire of compositions at the Bristol music venue on Thursday 14 April 2016.
The pianist has already made a name for herself in the music world with a string of prestigious accolades, performances and awards including playing at the Barbican Hall, various festivals across Europe, and a busy 2016 calendar which takes in a concert tour of Poland and her debut at Royal Festival Hall. A vociferous advocate of contemporary music and composers, her recent album Etude has been lavished with serious critical and public praise as well as being selected as Critic's Choice for 2015 in the American Record Guide. In May she'll release her third disc with solo piano music by Ken Hesketh.
Her considerable talents haven't been purely restricted behind the piano either, having made her film debut as the younger version of Maggie Smith's character in last year's film adaption of Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van.
Hammond's performance at St George's - part of its regular Lunchtime Concert series - was an hour of pure, indulgent pianistic bliss with three pieces that were as thrilling as they were utterly sublime.
Beethoven's Sonata No 8 in C Minor - otherwise known as the Pathétique - straddles the romantic and classical periods and was one of the most skilled and electrifying performances of the musical titan I've ever heard. From the funereal, sombre opening Grave movement to the spiky, animated Allegro, to the delicious melancholy of the dreamy, ethereal Adagio to, finally, the closing Rondo: Allegro, this was musicianship of the highest, most impeccable calibre. Adroitly performed and stunningly executed, this was all the passion, intensity, gutsiness and inimitable sonic richness of Beethoven's genius captured in a single, phenomenal performance.
A tough act to follow then, but follow it she did with a voyage into more contemporary classical waters with Thomas Ades' Mazurkas 1 and 3. More modern and off-kilter in approach, style and tone, it offered a refreshing contrast and aural alternative to the Beethovinian proceedings, playing with jaunty rhythms and sonic spectral shimmers brimming with subtle syncopations and a more ambient, dissonant, almost free-form improvisational easiness that unfolded with a listless, haunting mystery.
Nikolai Medtner's Sonata Romantica presented a ballsy and brilliant finale. One of Rachmaninov's favourite composers, Medtner's four-movement firebrand was brimming with exciting musical bounty, a sublime lushness and an often relentless, impassioned yearning and romantic angst. Under Hammond's pre-eminent and masterful control, the piece was given the impeccable, solid treatment it deserved.
Clare Hammond's accomplished performances of everything on the program was utterly exhilarating, demonstrating a musician in total control of her instrument and her craft. Displaying seemingly effortless mastery of the dynamics and demands of each piece, it was truly one of the most enriching, inspiring, bold and moving sixty minutes in a concert hall I've experienced so far this year.
Unquestionably a rising musical star and a virtuoso pianist to keep a very close eye on before she inevitably hits the giddying heights of the music world's stratosphere. Unforgettably captivating and divine.’
'Hammond, rapidly gaining in reputation, is a pianist with a formidable technique at the service of her deep musicianship. She specialises in little known late nineteenth century and twentieth, twenty-first century romantic music, rarely played. This programme was no exception. She opened with five mazurkas. The first three were by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), mazurkas based on the folk rhythms of the Tatra Highlands, closer to the music of Bartok rather than those which inspired Chopin. The followed two by Thomas Adès, piano pieces which retained vestiges of the rhythm and structure of the mazurka form. The first half of the programme concluded with a performance of the Sonata Romantica by Nikolai Medtner (1889-1951). Medtner was a slightly younger contemporary of fellow-Russian Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943); his work is far less known but of a similar quality. Hammond proved a strong advocate of the work, in four continuous movements. She gave a clear coherent account of each movement easy for the untutored audience to follow: this, despite the extreme technical demands and aided by a prodigious memory.
Following the interval, Hammond played another rarity, Sergei Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli. In fact, the theme is 'La Folia' which predates Corelli by at least half a century. Some hundred sets of variations on this theme date from the baroque era, among the best being Corelli, Vivaldi (Op 1) and, for viol, Marin Marais. Rachmaninov’s set are neo-baroque in nature, each following the bar structure of the theme, rather than the freer form of the composer’s Paganini variations.
Hammond’s Chopin is at the robust end of the interpretive spectrum, though not without moments of melting tenderness. She played eight of the opus 25 Études as studies to display flawless technique. The one which stays in the memory is No 6 with its uninterrupted ripple of thirds but all could be relished. As an encore she played a scintillating Study in minor seconds' by the Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin, one of five studies, recently recorded on a CD devoted to études by various composers.'
'You won't hear the adventurous side of Clare Hammond when she appears as a young Maggie Smith, playing the Proms, in the new Alan Bennett movie, The Lady in the Van. You do, however, on Etudes, her second album for BIS, offering 67 minutes of dazzling virtuosity, proving that Etudes or Studies need not be aesthetically hampered by pedagogical intentions. Three Transcendental Etudes by the Russian Sergei Lyapunov(1859-1924) pursue a Lisztian lead while Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937) gleefully riffs it up, proving that a ragtime rhythm, in minor seconds, can still get toes tapping.
Hammond hypnotises in a 1916 collection of Studies by Szymanowski, 12 pithy and pungent miniatures, exploring the Polish composer's individual, post-Debussian twilight world. More recently, six rather hip Etudes by the Korean Unsuk Chin, written between 1995 and 2003, show an impish humour. And Hammond catches it beautifully, from the opening In C, that sounds anything but, to a teasing Toccata that takes its time to whirl into action.'
'Athletic, intelligent and thoughtful are the first three words that come to mind after hearing Clare Hammond at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall on Sunday 11th October. Hammond’s solo recital was a glittering trove of musical gems. With its sustained depth and maturity, this treasure chest of music making bequeathed a great ruby of musical talent. Suffice it to say that Hammond’s musical education is as successful as her career as her career will undoubtedly be, for she earned a double first in music at Cambridge University and completed a doctorate in 20th century left-hand piano concertos. Hammond was utterly sophisticated and instantly charmed the audience with her gracefulness and poise – characteristics she brought to the piano for her recital.
The well-known pianist who specialises in Sibelius, Eero Heinonen, says of the composer’s works for piano: “there are technical difficulties, to be sure, but generally the piano texture is melodious and colourful – but unlike any other piano style”. Pantheistic and mellifluous, Sibelius’ Tree cycle, Op. 75 was the perfect start to this Sunday morning recital. Hammond captured Sibelius’s mystical ephemerality and with a subtle application of tension (and perhaps nerves) held the threads of melody together. In lieu of Heinonen’s comment, Hammond’s dynamic range coloured each piece though did not over sentimentalise. Her performance of The Spruce (the much loved fifth and final miniature), was sublime. This slow waltz was lifted by her elegant performance of the fast arpeggios in the risoluto section. Known for performing contemporary repertoire, foreshadows of Erik Satie sounded prominent at the hand of Hammond.
Choosing Beethoven’s 4th Sonata in E flat Op. 7, which usually lasts around 28 minutes, one immediately gleans a sense of Hammond’s ambitious personality. This daringness was heard to great effect in the Allegro and (unusually songful) Rondo. At times Hammond’s performance echoed Richard Goode’s 1993 recording. Hammond’s pace allowed Beethoven’s playfulness in the first movement and thoughtfulness in the second to come through. Her delicate touch and use of the soft pedal in the second movement (in C major) avoided reductive simplification. Hammond’s punctuation and earnestness brought out the consolatory character of the piece she introduced as an expression of the ‘tender and intimate emotions of the everyday’. Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14 with its E major andante in 4/4 meter followed by an E minor presto in 6/8 marks the composer’s use of slow movements and fast finales as well as his progression from major to minor that occurs in his ‘Italian’ Symphony. Hammond demonstrated her bravura and penchant for panache in this rousing piece.
Described by Scriabin as “a great poem for the piano”, his Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 contains energy and mysticism in equal measure. His epigraph to this peace reads:
I call you to life, oh mysterious forces!
Drowned in the obscure depths
Of the creative spirit, timid
Shadows of life, to you I bring audacity!
This excerpt which he extracted from his essay Le Poème de l’Extase sums up the character of this notoriously difficult piece. Richter described this work as one of the most demanding in the entire piano repertory, along with Franz Listz’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1. Clearly not one to dodge a challenge, Hammond’s interpretation was full of the muscularity, rhythm, and tenderness required of the performer. Her sylphlike touch breathed a chillingly transcendental quality through the piece. Hammond played as a cloaked phantom gliding over the keys.
I would agree with BBC Music Magazine’s comment that Hammond has developed a reputation for “brilliantly imaginative concert programmes”. Sunday’s performance consisted of pieces that not only commented on each other but also culminated in the final piece by Scriabin. With a Bach Serenade as her encore, Hammond demonstrated her versatility as a performer. Though she is better suited to later (post-Romantic) works, her performance of Bach evinced the feeling and directness she demonstrated all morning.'
'This is one of the most enjoyable recordings to come my way this year. Hammond has chosen almost all unknown works, all bristling with technical challenges, but most satisfying in a musical sense as well. The variety of styles presented under the common title "Etude" is huge; everything from Liapounov's romantic Russian virtuosity to Szymanowski, the most obvious Polish successor to Chopin in that idiom. Korean Chin mixes eastern and western styles under the influence of Ligeti, and there are jazz etudes by Ukrainian Kapustin. There is not an uninteresting moment to be found on this exceptionally well recorded recital. Hammond also writes very well, and her booklet essay is both informative and entertaining.
The etudes here were composed from 1897 to 2003. I was familiar with Liapounov's homage to Liszt, a set of 12 Transcendental Etudes. The sonic difference between Louis Kentner's recording of the complete set (1949) and this new BIS is truly night and day. I can only hope that Hammond continues with these and eventually has a complete set. The three here (4,5,6) take 17 minutes.
Unsuk Chin (b. 1961) studied with Ligeti in Germany and wrote her etudes over the course of eight years. The last one is the most substantial and was written for Pierre Boulez's 75th birthday. These are fiendishly difficult, and they got more enjoyable with each hearing. Szymanowski's Op. 33 Etudes were written at about the same time as Debussy's. They show the influence of both contemporary French (Debussy and Ravel) and Russian (Stravinsky) styles. Kapustin (see another review of his music in this issue) mastered the American jazz style from a study of the greats (Erroll Gardner was a favourite). He uses this style in etudes devoted to specific, different intervals - as we find in Chopin, Debussy and Scriabin. Here we have minor 2nds, 4ths, 6ths, major 2nds, and octaves. All in quick tempos, these make for a brilliant conclusion to a superb release'.
'It would not be surprising if this recital includes all 88 keys of the piano This is a tremendous pile of notes. What makes this selection of études remarkable, though, is not the density of the material, but the variety of stylistic approaches to the format among the four composers represented here. We have a dazzling grouping of piano works that are designed to improve the skill of the instrumentalist, but are at the same time delightful to behold by the listener as well, in the manner of the études of Chopin and Liszt.
Three of the composers, Sergei Lyapunov, Karol Szymanowski, and Nikolai Kapustin, share a Slavic penchant for rich, complex harmonies and a strong lyrical underpinning. The oldest of these trio, Lyapunov, comes from the end of the 19th century, and although the immediate inspiration here is Liszt, there are strong premonitions of Rachmaninoff. Szymanowski arrives a generation later, and here we get Polish traditions morphing into a highly cosmopolitan voice, including the powerful influence of Debussy. The increasingly popular music of Nikolai Kapustin, who is still with us, is best known for the influence of jazz. It is fantastical music, and I still remember hearing it in concert for the first time at a Marc-André Hamelin recital, as it produced astonished giggles from the audience.
South Korean composer Unsuk Chin is the odd woman out in this quartet, so to speak. She was a student of Ligeti in the late 1980s, and shares this wonderful maverick's sense for joyful Modernism, as well as a puckish sense of humour. Chin has had training as a pianist, but this music is more in keeping with her current interest in electronic music, which is to say, the music is presented with an emphasis on textures and other vertical elements, as opposed to melodic flow and momentum (which is abundant in the work of the other three composers). Or, as Clare Hammond puts it in a bit of diplomatic understatement, in her smart and informative notes, "figurations lie awkwardly under the hand". This superb British pianist is easily up to the challenge, giving us a beautifully produced and highly stimulating recital.'
'This album may have alternatively been named Future Of The Etude as it follows the piano study from its humbler origins as mere finger exercises well into the 21st century. It was Chopin and Liszt in the early- to mid-19th century who transformed the etude into an aesthetically pleasing art form. The Russian Sergei Lyapunov was clearly inspired by Liszt to write his own 12 Transcendental Etudes (1900), of which three - Terek, Nuit D'Ete and Tempete - have been chosen for their variety of expressive devices. Here, the prodigious pianism of Liszt is united with the Russian nationalism of Balakirev and Borodin.
The 12 Studies Op. 33 (1916) of Pole Karol Szymanowski are barely one-minute long each, but they are filled with light and colour, which take on the hues of Debussy's impressionism. The Korean Unsuk Chin was a student of the Hungarian Gyorgy Ligeti and her Six Etudes (1995-2003) pay tribute to his own Etudes, wondrous essays of rhythmic and textural complexity which are modernistic, dissonant yet totally engaging.
Finally, the Ukrainian Nikolai Kapustin's 5 Etudes In Different Intervals Op. 68 (1992) employ the blues, jazz harmonies and syncopations in service of entertaining finger-twisters. The young British pianist Clare Hammond's readings of divergent styles are a revelation and make a welcome entry into an overpopulated world of recorded pianophilia.'
'Rok 2014 sprzyjał popularyzacji muzyki Andrzeja Panufnika przede wszystkim poprzez opracowania naukowe, wydawnictwa płytowe oraz koncerty. Powodem była, rzecz jasna, okrągła 100. rocznica urodzin kompozytora. Jednym z owoców tych obchodów jest omawiana płyta łącząca muzykę fortepianową zarówno Andrzeja, jak i jego córki Roxanny. Twórczość fortepianowa Panufnika jest nader skromna. Według mojej wiedzy do dziś zachowały się jedynie trzy kompozycje: 12 Miniaturowych Etiud (znane wcześniej pod tytułem Krąg kwintowy), Refleksje oraz Pentasonata. Powstały one w trzech różnych okresach twórczości Panufnika. Etiudy pochodzą z roku 1947 (w późniejszych latach kompozytor dokonywał ich rewizji przygotowując do londyńskiego wydania), Refleksje – z 1968 r., zaś Pentasonata – z 1984 r. Każda z Miniaturowych Etiud to swoisty mikrokosmos. Opierając się na tym samym materiale muzycznym, kompozytor manipuluje pozostałymi elementami, tworzącw efekcie kapitalne kontrasty. Niczym najznamienitszy twórca renesansowy, Panufnik wykazuje olbrzymią dbałość o liczbę, miarę i proporcję. I choć jego pomysły z perspektywy XXI-wiecznego odbiorcy nie są tak ciekawe, oryginalne i świeże, i dziś cyklu tego słucha się z satysfakcją. Refleksje powstawał na przestrzeni kilku dni, w niezwykłym dla kompozytora czasie – okresie narodzin córki Roxanny. Z kolei Pentasonata, dzieło dojrzałe, jest kolejnym świadectwem dbałości kompozytora o liczbę i proporcję: składa się z pięciu części, opiera na skali 5-stopniowej, zaś ustępy skrajne mają metrum pięciodzielne.
Na omawianej płycie twórczość Andrzeja Panufnika została uzupełniona o dwie kompozycje: Hommage à Chopin oraz Modlitwę. W oryginale są to pieśni na fortepian (ściślej rzecz ujmując, Hommage à Chopin pomyślane były jako wokalizy); ich opracowań dokonała Roxanna, efekty są imponujące.
W albumie muzyka fortepianowa Andrzeja Panufnika została zestawiona z dwoma kompozycjami Roxanny Panufnik. Są to Second Home oraz Glo. Tytuł pierwszego utworu, Drugi dom, odnosi się do Polski – to cykl wariacji na temat ludowy. Drugi stanowi muzyczne epitafium dla przyjaciela rodziny. To ciekawe, że utwory Roxanny zostały wplecione pomiędzy dzieła ojca i wkomponowują się w ten sposób znakomicie. Nie ma wątpliwości, że stylistyka u obojga jest dość zbliżona.
Wykonawczynią wszystkich zawartych na płycie kompozycji jest Clare Hammond. Jest to artystka dobrze znana polskiej publiczności: być może niektórzy z Państwa słyszeli jak wspaniale wykonywała ona Koncert fortepianowy Andrzeja Panufnika. Jej interpretacje zaprezentowane w omawianym albumie są znakomite. Mimo, że dużą wagę przywiązuje do szczegółów i klarowności brzmienia, gra w sposób bardzo żywiołowy, wyrazisty i emocjonalny, z wielką pasją, słucha się tego wybornie! Pod względem technicznym pozostaje bez zarzutu, prezentuje się wręcz niczym prawdziwy wirtuoz. Second Home Roxanny Panufnik pod palcami Clare Hammond jawi się jako istny majstersztyk.
Płyta została dopracowana w szczegółach i może stanowić jedną z najciekawszych pozycji w dyskografii Panufników, a zarazem jeden z najważniejszych owoców ubiegłorocznych obchodów urodzin Sir Andrzeja.'
Click here for a translation.
“The city may have been segregated, but my taste in music wasn’t.” The American composer Philip Glass’s description of his childhood in Baltimore resonated sharply last week. He was in the UK to participate in concerts of his music and to celebrate the publication of his new memoir. Back in Maryland, the same night he was playing to a sell-out Barbican, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gave a spontaneous free outdoor concert, conducted by their music director Marin Alsop, in response to the city’s current riots. The universal language of music “can transcend differences”, Alsop said on a news bulletin, surrounded by an audience of all colours and ages fanning themselves in the hot sun after a shot of upbeat Handel. A member of the orchestra was more sanguine. Music won’t stop riots, he acknowledged. But this event cheered people, made a change to the sound of sirens and, he added, got a million likes on Facebook.
US riots and a UK general election hardly equate, but with polling day imminent it is difficult to find any sign of collective political life in the musical fraternity. British classical musicians, whose relentless schedules leave little time or energy to spare, tend to be politically impassive compared with their rock music or theatre colleagues. An exception is the London Sinfonietta which, under the title “Notes to the New Government”, has commissioned 16 new songs to be premiered at the Southbank two days after the election. Composers include Kerry Andrew, Jason Yarde, Emily Hall and Colin Matthews. Topics range across the NHS, climate change, sex-trafficking and homelessness. Obligatory listening for the new arts minister? If only.
Glass, not so much a politician as a peace campaigner throughout his half-century career, has always preferred to see the bigger picture. This is true of his music too, where grand design matters more than close-up, tiny detail. It’s one reason why ears attuned to the dense complexities of modernism may struggle with his airy, forward-moving oscillations and repetitions. To be accurate, his comment quoted at the start was chiefly musical rather than social, reflecting on his one-world taste, from jazz to Cage to Indian raga via Bach and Chopin.
All these influences were audible in his 20 Etudes, performed by five players including the composer himself, in a single evening. They were written over a period of two decades beginning in 1994. As their name indicates, these are keyboard studies. Glass wanted to improve his own piano technique, whether scales and broken chords or trills and arpeggios. This was his chosen method. Some are mellifluous and dreamy, others stark, others ebullient. Chopin, Schumann, Bartók and Debussy head the long list of pianist-composers who wrote such studies.
While their works in this form may offer more harmonic variety, the Glass Etudes provided contrast in the act of performance itself. Each pianist was entirely different in style and interpretation. The young British rising star Clare Hammond was a dazzling athlete; Iceland’s Vikingur Olafsson a tender, oversized poet; New York composer-pianist Timo Andres brought muscularity and intellect; the Japanese Maki Namekawa, a long-time Glass interpreter, had a serene wisdom. In the four studies he played (1, 2, 16, 17), Glass himself was far more approximate, his fingerwork less than dexterous. Warmly received, he remains the admired grandfather-creator, gradually relinquishing his career as performer, still hard-working as a composer.
'It feels sad to admit it, but the founding fathers of American musical minimalism are getting old. When they appear in person, the feelings that greet them are complicated. Last night it was the turn of 78-year-old Philip Glass, one of five pianists gathered at the Barbican to play all twenty of Glass’s piano Études, composed in twos and threes over the past twenty years. One felt a great surge of affection in the mostly young audience, tinged with a salute to Glass’s everlasting “coolness” and even a touch of reverence.
The programme note listed a production company and road manager among the credits, which might seem excessive for a simple piano concert, but Glass likes to stage manage everything down to the last detail. There were five individually-adjusted piano stools, whisked into place by stage hands. So each pianist was able to come on to the platform, play two Études and make way for the next, with smooth precision.
The music added to the sense of a well-oiled machine in motion. Again and again the familiar Glass fingerprints of endlessly repeated arpeggios and circling patterns came round. Occasionally hints of other composers could be heard, caught and held in Glass’s repeating patterns like a fly in amber. Schubert, Janáĉek, Chopin’s study in sixths, Scarlatti’s hectic repeated notes and even the "Good night" ensemble from Britten’s Peter Grimes all appeared.
The name Étude implies a technical exercise, and the pieces certainly posed a challenge. The five pianists had to sustain Glass’s relentless, wrist-breaking patterns with remorseless efficiency, while softening them just enough to make them appear musical. Unfortunately the one pianist who wasn’t up to it was Glass himself. The four Études he played were marred by lapses of concentration and an uncertain touch.
The other four pianists were superb, in their different ways. Clare Hammond brilliantly caught the dark, Indian-flavoured moto perpetuo of No 3. Timo Andres brought out the dry wit of No 9, which was a welcome change of tone. Maki Namekawa showed how even a weak piece like No 8 could be partly redeemed by gradually increasing the intensity of those endless mechanical repetitions. Best of the bunch was Icelandic pianist Vikingur Ólafsson. He played the blizzard of scales in No 13 with amazing virtuosity, and gave the still quietness of No 5 a monumental, rapt intensity. For a moment one had the sense of listening to a proper masterpiece.'
'In 1994, the legendary Philip Glass started writing the first instalments in a series of 20 compositions that would take him 19 years to complete. Wanting to improve his technical abilities as a piano player but having grown bored of playing other people’s music, he embarked on a series of études, a term for pieces that are deliberately extremely bloody difficult to play, and more commonly used as technical exercises practiced behind closed doors rather than for the pleasure of an audience. Often, études aren’t designed for pleasure at all; they’re bafflingly complex, and – unsurprisingly in Glass’s case - highly repetitive, meant as mental and physical workouts for the benefit of the musicians rather than anyone else in earshot.
If this all sounds pretty academic, that’s understandable. But what was remarkable about hearing all 20 of Glass’s Etudes performed together for the first time in London tonight (29th April) was quite how transcendentally involved each of the pianists seemed in their playing. The audience, too, spent the evening either in mesmerised, reverent silence or rapturous, tearful applause at the end of each piece, having witnessed a feat of musical accomplishment that seemed at once superhuman and primeval. Each one of the 20 études now takes up a place on the 20 most astonishing pieces of music for piano I have ever heard performed. I’ve never been to anything like this, and save for another performance of the études, it’s unlikely I’ll witness anything close in future either.
Walking toward the unamplified grand piano in the middle of the Barbican stage to mass applause, Glass began the evening performing the first two of the Etudes, having admitted that – at age 78 – it’s now simply too difficult for him to play all 20 of them in a night. What dexterity in his playing may have dwindled as he approaches his ninth decade is more than made up for in the palpable levels of personal involvement in the pieces; those who share the stage with him tonight might play faster or more complex music, but the privilege of watching the man who composed it lose himself in works that are decades old was unsurpassable (admit it; even in his 70s, the person you most want to watch do keepy uppies is Pelé).
There comes a stage in the evening where it seems that each pianist who steps up is the best I’ve ever heard at the instrument, until they’re knocked off their perch by whoever is following them, only to regain it in after the interval when each of them gets another go at a pair of études. The levels of technical skill and focus on display across these two hours cannot be stressed or praised highly enough. Timo Andres’s playing seems so intensely absorbed you wonder whether blood might start spurting from his temples. Maki Namekawa, wife of Dennis Russell Davies (whose 50th birthday gave rise to the first set of Etudes) plays with a reverence for the material that’s as emotionally draining as it is technically dazzling. Clare Hammond moves from jaunty, playful interpretations to sections so frantic I sniff the air to see if I can smell smoke coming from the ivories. And as for Vikingur Olafsson, suffice to say his playing was so superb that, at times, he had moments where he made even his bafflingly accomplished colleagues look like mere amateurs by comparison. But to be fair, that could be said for all of them. I can’t remember who played what, exactly. I don’t think I was necessarily meant to. I zoned out, because it felt more appropriate – and music rarely makes an offer to do so quite as enticing as this one.
Glass’ études and the performances they were given tonight stand as a timely reminder of just what heights humanity can reach when levels of technical ability and personal involvement in the music are both at their highest. Nothing about this felt stuffy, big headed, or contrived. It didn’t feel remotely “classical” - each performer’s personality shone through just as brightly as their technical chops. The études might not have been written for meditative purposes, but they serve it better than any other music of which I’m aware. Part of what made tonight so special was that it offered a reminder that there’s so, so much music in the world of which I’m completely ignorant, and it made me want to hear all of it, immediately.'
'Simply entitled ‘Etude’, Clare Hammond’s recital is gloriously deceptive. For here is no familiar programme of Chopin and Liszt but an enterprising and enthralling challenge for both pianist and listener. Opening with Nos 4, 5 and 6 from Lyapunov’s 12 Transcendental Etudes - a very Russian tribute to Liszt, Hammond then abruptly changes course with Unsuk Chin’s six Piano Etudes (1995-2003) and a world that is ‘abstract and remote’ yet ‘addressing the emotions and communicating joy and warmth’. Then follow Szymanowski’s 12 Op 33 Etudes (already a far cry from the Chopin-inspired earlier set of Op 4) and, finally, Kapustin’s Five Etudes in Different Intervals.
All this could set even the most intrepid virtuoso explorer (Marc-André Hamelin?) by the ears, yet Hammond’s musical intention is always paramount. She storms Lyapunov’s ‘Térek’ and ‘Tempête’ with full-blooded romanticism and finds all the sultry and romantic atmosphere of ‘Nuit d’été’. If Chin’s Etudes betray the influence of her teacher Ligeti, they are also highly individual and distinguished, their often playful quality ironically surfacing through a formidable intricacy. Memories of earlier work (the monstrous Second Sonata) flicker through Szymanowski’s Etudes as well as other composers’ (Scriabin’s double-note Study, Op. 8 No 11), while Kapustin recalls Debussy (‘Pour les octaves’ and ‘Pour les notes répétées’). More to the point, Hammond plays with unfaltering bravura and conviction, and she has been superbly recorded.'
Read Clare's blog entry for Gramophone magazine, 'Getting to Grips with Unsuk Chin's Etudes', here.
'Here is a dazzling programme of 20th- and 21st-century Etudes from the young British pianist Clare Hammond, who would deserve many plaudits just for getting through this many notes. With its whirling kaleidoscopes of pianistic effects, this array of wizardry is not for the faint-hearted.
Part of its fascination is hearing the perspective added by the unusual progressions of repertoire; Unsuk Chin’s vividly imagined creations sound closer to the sensual coloration of Szymanowski than one might expect, while the many-layered voicing and driving rhythms of Kapustin’s irresistibly jazzy offerings find plenty of counterparts in the textural patterns of those more elusive soundworlds. The Chin work is especially welcome: the composer studied with Ligeti and seems to have followed him in creating a set of challenging studies that push the instrument’s capacities to the utmost.
It is a gloriously creative programme and Hammond pulls it off without succumbing to any temptations of overt ‘flashiness’ or bombastic technical showing off; instead she favours precision, clarity and seriousness of purpose. Yet I found myself wishing for the character of each composer to be even more strongly defined: we hear the similarities between them perhaps more strongly than the differences - for instance, Kapustin’s rhythms could dig deeper and feel more visceral. Voicing throughout could occasionally be more vividly set in perspective, since at times the focusing threads can seem subsumed into busy textures. Still, it is a terrific achievement and the repertoire is fresh and fantastic.'
"Hammond explores the continuing concept of the piano étude with imagination and bravura. The 19th-century embodiment of the study, not just as technical training, but expressive daring, remained an inspiration for composers. She begins with three examples from Sergei Lyapunov, richly Romantic in figuration, dextrously unfolded here. Then comes the startling contrast of the thin treble attack of Chin’s post-tonal Six Etudes, the textural imagination as fascinating as the digital experiments are fiendish. Szymanowski’s 12 Studies are a return to sumptuousness; Kapustin’s Five Etudes in Different Intervals open the transcendental study to jazz."
"Etude CD Review - style and substance: The young British pianist Clare Hammond is fast building a reputation as a stylish interpreter of the new or less familiar. Until Chopin showed us otherwise, etudes tended to prompt thoughts of dreary studies designed to advance technique. Hammond challenges the assumption with this intriguing showcase. The Russian Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924) took inspiration from Liszt in his Etudes d’exécution transcendante. Szymanowski (1882-1937) conjures tonalities and delicate colours closer to Debussy than to his fellow Pole, Chopin. The real interest is the set of six Etudes by Unsuk Chin (b1961), witty, angular, pointillistic, and the Five Etudes in Different Intervals, punchy and jazzy, by Nikolai Kapustin (b1937). Hammond brings precision and clarity to all."
'A remarkably well-chosen selection of etudes that is the very definition of bravura over barnstorming. Lyapunov is revealed here as the missing link between Chopin and Scriabin; full justice is given to Unsuk Chin’s set, in performances that earn the composer’s grateful praise. If Kapustin’s pastiches slightly let the side down, this recital is testament to a thoughtful musician with a noteworthy technique.'
'Die in Deutschland noch unbekannte britische Pianistin Clare Hammond präsentiert sich auf ihrer hier vorliegenden zweiten CD (eine erste, beim gleichen Label, enthielt Werke von Andrzej Panufnik und dessen Tochter Roxanna Panufnik) als ausgesprochene Virtuosin. Das legt der Titel „Etude“ schon nahe, obwohl sie nicht die ursprünglichen, kompositorisch eher primitiven Etüden vorstellt, sondern aus der späteren Geschichte dieser Gattung solche Werke, die pianistisch-technische Problemstellungen mit einem kompositorisch-expressiven Anspruch verbinden. Dabei wandelt der russische Spätromantiker Sergej Ljapunov nicht nur mit dem Titel seiner Etüden, sondern auch mit dem klanglichen Ergebnis deutlich auf den Spuren Franz Liszts. Die dunkel getönten Stücke, denen Clare Hammond rhythmischen Drive verleiht, erweisen sich gleichwohl als durchaus reizvoll.
Die bisher erschienenen sechs Etüden (aus einem geplanten zwölfteiligen Zyklus) der in Berlin lebenden Koreanerin Unsuk Chin sind technisch intrikate Herausforderungen mit wechselnder poetisch-narrativer Charakteristik. Während in der Ersteinspielung des Werkes durch die Koreanerin Mei Yi Foo (Odradek Records 1700302) das poetisch-klangliche Moment mehr im Vordergrund stand, wählt Clare Hammond eine betont sportlich-virtuose Annäherung; ihre Wiedergabe ist meist auch etwas schneller, während bei den eher verhaltenen Passagen geringfügig die Spannung abfällt. Im Gegensatz zur Interpretin, die ihre CD selbst betextet hat, muß allerdings betont werden, dass der Hinweis auf Chins Lehrer György Ligeti hier nicht viel besagt: Während Ligeti bei seinen Klavieretüden eine vorwiegend mathematische Idee sich konsequent entwickeln läßt, steht bei Unsuk Chin doch die Auslotung des expressiven Potentials von Klang- und Registerwechseln an erster Stelle.
Auch bei den spätimpressionistischen Etüden von Karol Szymanowski und den jazzigen Stücken von Nikolaj Kapustin erweist sich Clare Hammond als souveräne Technikerin, die aber auch enormen Klangsinn zu entfalten in der Lage ist. Eine interessante und hörenswerte Zusammenstellung abseits der ausgewalzten Klavierpfade.'
Click here for a translation.
'Après un disque consacré aux Panufnik père et fille ("Reflections", catalogue no 626), Clare Hammond propose un florilège d'études où les partitions centenaires de Liapounov et Szymanowski voisinent avec des pages écrites entre 1992 et 2003.
Comme leur titre l'indique, les Etudes d'exécution transcendante de Liapounov suivent la voie tracée par Liszt. D'ailleurs, Nuit d'été - que la pianiste imprègne d'une belle finesse - rappelle les Harmonies du soir lisztiennes. L'interprète se tire bien de la haute virtuosité requise. Tout au plus pourra-t-on trouver les strepitosos de Terek un rien timides et Tempête, cet enfant monstrueux qu'auraient eu Chopin et Balakirev, moines tumultueuse que que sous les doigts de Scherbakov (Marco Polo). Bien troussées, tantôt acérées ou diaphanes, les Douze études op. 33 de Szymanowski évoquent souvent le Scriabine tardif, telle la deuxième écho de l'Etude op. 65 no. 1 du compositeur russe. Si Clare Hammond manque parfois d'aisance (Opus 33 No. 6) et doit d'incliner devant la clarté et le volontarisme de Martin Roscoe (Naxos), il faut saluer sa subtilité et la magnificence sonore.
Changement de braquet avec les pages des compositeurs vivants, où la pianist britannique apparaît cette fois parfaitement à l'aise. Les remarquables études d'Unsuk Chin (née en 1961) s'apparentent à la traversée d'un miroir glacé (1), ou revêtent les habits d'une diabolique toccata (5) se souvenant de Ligeti - donc Chin a été l'élève - en ses rythmes asymétriques. L'exceptionnelle finesse d'articulation, la vitalité éloquente et la force de conviction de Clare Hammond - qui surclasse la version de Yejin Gil (Solstice) - rendent justice au travail d'orfèvre de la musicienne sud-coréenne.
Brillantes et ludiques, jazzy ou évoquent un film muet en accéléré, les oeuvres de Nikolaï Kapustin (né en 1937) sont toujours payantes pour l'instrumentiste qui sait en dominer les embûches. La pianiste détaille le text et apporte une chaleur absente de la version rapide et virtuose de Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion). En dépit de menues réserves, un disque revigorant.'
Click here for a translation.
'Après un enregistrement remarquable consacré aux oeuvres pour piano seul d'Andrzej et Roxanna Panufnik, la pianiste Clare Hammond se penche sur "l'Étude pianistique" en tant que genre musical, avec un programme originel comprenant quartre oeuvres de quatre compositeurs différents.
Tout d'abord, Serge Lyapunov (1859-1924) avec trois pièces tirées de ses 12 Études d'Exécution Transcendante, puis Unsuk Chin (née en 1961) et ses Études pour piano dont la composition s'étale de 1995 à 2003. Vient ensuite le compositeur ukrainien Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) et ses 12 Études Op. 33, puis pour terminer ce beau parcours, Nikolai Kapustin (né en 1937) et ses Cinq Études dans différent intervalles, Op. 68.
Avec énergie, conviction et ferveur, Clare Hammond défend ces pages dans un flot musical des plus inspirés. La virtuosité est ici au service de la musique et ne fait que renforcer l'engagement rigoureux d'une artiste exigeante. Un SACD de premier plan.'
Click here for a translation.
"Clare Hammond opens her recital with three of Sergei Lyapunov's (1859-1924) 12 Études d'exécution transcendante, Op. 11. With No. 4, Térek Allegro impetuoso (1900), Clare Hammond immediately holds the attention as she builds the music from the depths, revealing a clarity despite Lyapunov’s dense textures. When the little, very Russian theme emerges each time, it is a lovely moment. She provides some especially fine playing as the étude develops. She brings expansive, languid, beautifully limpid delicate phrases and a fine touch to No. 5. Nuit d’été Lento ma non Troppo (1900) in a lovely performance, finely paced, allowing the music to rise naturally before a beautifully realised coda. Rippling volatility arrives in No. 6. Tempête Allegro agitato molto (1897) with lovely phrasing that enhances this pianist’s fine sense of individual line with a fine strength in the more dynamic passages.
Next Hammond gives us South Korean composer, Unsuk Chin’s (b.1961) Piano Études (1995-2003). Piano Étude No. 1, ‘In C’ reveals a composer who has taken the influences of modernist composers such as Ligeti with whom she studied, and formed a style that brings spectacularly fine structures, at times dissonantly melodic, yet always surprising to the ear. Messiaen also loosely comes to mind, yet this is wholly engaging, individual music brilliantly played.
Piano Étude No. 2, ‘Sequenzen’ rises up from the lower keyboard, gaining in tempo and dynamics until breaking out into an energetic, rhythmically complex passage. There is a more thoughtful passage before the energy returns with playing that is, by any standards, phenomenally good.
Piano Étude No. 3, ‘Scherzo ad libitum’ runs around in little phrases that at first appear fragmented but soon the ear catches a cohesion and structure. The music is playful in nature, something which this pianist picks up on, building to some terrific overlaying of lines before gently skipping to a conclusion.
Intricate little scales and motifs rush around in the Piano Étude No. 4, ‘Scalen’ with Hammond bringing an intoxicatingly fine, delicate touch to a brilliantly executed coda. With the Piano Étude No. 5, ‘Toccata’ little bouncing phrases slowly overlay each other leading the toccata forward before rising to a very fine coda. A terrific study, brilliantly played.
A certain fragmentation of motifs opens the Piano Étude No. 6, ‘Grains’, however, Chin cleverly develops the motifs, almost imperceptibly. Hammond’s fine ability to hold an overall structure allows this music to reveal the subtle forward movement, the little surges that overall give a propulsion as well as an arch like structure as it falls to the coda.
For those that listen with an open ear this is eminently approachable music. It is good that BIS have taken care over the times between tracks so that the right amount of silence is allowed.
Karol Szymanowski’s (1882-1937) 12 Studies, Op. 33 (1916) follow with No. 1. Presto moving off quickly with a subtle melody emerging out of the textures and some very fine terrific playing indeed. The exotic, scented harmonies of No. 2. Andantino soave are beautifully realised with beautifully coloured textures.
The brief No. 3. Vivace assai quickly builds to a fine coda before No. 4. Presto where Hammond’s fine delicacy is apparent, beautifully phrased, subtly coloured. There is an exquisitely wrought No. 5. Andante espressivo, full of nostalgia with rich broad phrases and a direct, forthright No. 6. Vivace.
No. 7. Allegro molto, with its little leaps and rhythmic changes is surprisingly modern in feel, relating somewhat to Unsuk Chin’s creations. A languid No.8 Lento assai mesto follows, atmospheric and thoughtful with Hammond bringing a lovely gentle, rhythmic lift to the music. No. 9. Animato brings more little rhythmic motifs before a rather brooding passage, Hammond revealing the fleeting character of the piece.
The turbulent No. 10. Presto has a subtle rubato and fine forward momentum before No. 11. Andante soave where again Szymanowski’s languid harmonies are finely brought out, the loose structure held perfectly. Finally No. 12. Presto, densely textured as the presto moves quickly forward, with this pianist maintaining a very fine clarity, subtly rising in stages to a fine coda.
The Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin (b.1937) brings jazz influences to his Five Études in different intervals, Op.68 (1992). No. 1. Allegro: Étude in minor seconds is terrific with a rollicking theme that has jazz, even rag time elements, brilliantly played and terrific fun.
No. 2. Allegro: Étude in fourths and fifths retains a similar feel but with a more serious vein. Clare Hammond holds the structure together brilliantly as the music varies in rhythm and tempi with overlaid musical lines. No. 3. Animato: Étude in thirds and sixths is another terrific piece with difficult rhythms and a lovely broad theme that momentarily appears out of the texture, not to mention a slight Latin feel.
Some terrific dissonances arrive with No. 4. Vivace: Étude in major seconds as the music hurtles ahead with sudden rhythm and tempo changes, Hammond picking up on the subtle rhythms brilliantly before leading to a more jazzy feel towards the end.
No. 5. Animato: Étude in octaves has a broader, freer feel with many different rhythms and flourishes wonderfully realised by Hammond who gives a phenomenally fine performance, bringing a fine breadth, flow and panache as the music leads to its almost Gershwinesque coda.
This is a first rate imaginative recital with some remarkable playing from Clare Hammond. She is very well recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England.
There are excellent booklet notes by the pianist.
"Clare Hammond is a fearless pianist, specialising in virtuosic repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries, often championing the work of contemporary composers and premiering their work. She performed in a stunning lunchtime recital at the 2013 Brighton Festival. Her latest CD is ‘Étude’. It includes 26 études, a form which began as study exercises for pianists to develop a particular aspect of technique, but largely through the efforts of Chopin and other pianist-composers after him, has become an art form in itself, with composers exploring the outer limits of technique and pushing the pianist to new extremes of virtuosity. The disc begins with three from a set of twelve ‘Études d’exécution transcendante’ by Russian composer Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924). This set was dedicated to Liszt, and completed the cycle which Liszt had begun of studies in all the 24 major & minor keys. Though whilst Liszt was clearly a major influence, this is undoubtedly music from the late Romantic Russian nationalistic school. With surging rivers (‘Térek’), an atmospheric ‘Nuit d’été’ and an full-on raging ‘Tempête’, the three chosen here give Hammond a perfect opportunity to set the scene for some barnstorming playing. The six Piano Études which follow are from South Korean composer Unsuk Chin (b.1961). Often thinner in texture, yet no doubt more technically demanding, these pieces manage to convey remarkable energy and imagination within the potentially restrictive demands of studies based on repetition or scales, and are probably the most pianistically challenging works on the disc. Hammond seems to relish the challenges set, yet also manages to find a sensitive touch in the delicate moments amid the fireworks. Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s (1882-1937) set of 12 Studies live in the same soundworld in many ways as Debussy’s études, composed just one year earlier than Szymanowski’s (in 1915). These are short pieces, all under two minutes long, and Szymanowski does well to create a specific mood in such a short space of time, although there is perhaps less variety across the different études here, with the consistently bitonal harmonies creating an other-worldy feel throughout. The disc ends with Ukranian pianist/composer, Nikolai Kapustin’s (b.1937) Five Études in Different Intervals, providing the perfect closing sequence for this astonishing disc. Kapustin combines classical and jazz styles in a unique way, and here he takes a seemingly restrictive concept, a specific interval for each study, as a starting point for five exuberant and joyous confections, once again fiendishly challenging."
"The Etude (study) is particularly used by pianist composers to explore extended technique. The form has its origins in studies written to focus on a particular technique for students, but composers like Chopin and Liszt have provided a model for later generations showing how flexible and challenging the form can be.
On this new disc from pianist Clare Hammond on the BIS label, she takes the Etude into the 20th and 21st centuries, with studies by the Russian composer Sergei Lyapunov (1859 - 1924), Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882 - 1937), Russian composer Nicolai Kapustin (born 1937) and Korean composer Unsuk Chin (born 1961). It goes without saying that these pieces challenge the pianist's technique and in her article in the CD booklet Hammond talks of how the etude combines the visceral excitement of technical display with expressive, colouristic and compositional ingenuity.
She starts with three studies from Lyapunov's 12 Etudes d'execution transcendent. They are modelled on Liszt's transcendental studies but Lyapunov mixes in highly Russian colours influenced by his collecting of Russian folksongs. Etude IV: Terek (written in 1900) is named after a river which flows from Georgia into Russia. It is an impulsive piece, with cascades of notes and both delicate and bravura moments. Etude V: Nuit d'ete (written in 1900) is more lyrical and elaborate, but Lyapunov provides big romantic development. With Etude VI: Tempete (written 1897) we are back in bravura territory with robust yet romantic cascades of notes.
Unsuk Chin studied with Ligeti in Hamburg and her Piano Etudes (written 1995-2003) are successors to those by Ligeti. Unlike the other composers on the disc, though a proficient pianist Unsuk Chin does not compose at the keyboard. This means part of the challenge of her Etudes is the way they push the pianists technique. Inspired by electronic music, Unsuk Chin uses layers of repeated patterns. In fact, on first listening to the pieces I was struck by their familial link to the player piano studies of Conlon Nancarrow, though Nancarrow was writing for an automatic piano rather than a human player.
Etude I: in C introduces us to Unsuk Chin's sound world with open textures and a wide range, extending over the whole keyboard. The study is transparent, but quirky and though clearly fiendishly difficult, Hammond responds with clarity and bright textures. Etude II: Sequenzen starts with a low rumbling and gets faster and higher, creating an impulsive toccata-like structure which ranges over the whole piano. Etude III: Scherzo ad libitum darts and skitters about with Hammond creating pointillistic moments of colour. Etude IV: Scalen is full of light running figures, with Hammond producing a lovely crystalline textures. Frankly, it is difficult to believe that all this is created by just one pianist. Etude V: Toccata starts with a single sporadic line, which gathers fellows and the whole piece is full of repeated motifs which culminates wonderful climax. Etude VI: Grains is again pointillistic with random jabs and twinkles of sound.
With 12 Studies by Karel Szymanowski (written in 1916) we return to more traditional territory. He seems to have been influenced by Debussy's etudes which were written in 1915, and Szymanwski's main concerns are colour and light. Each etude develops a particular figuration, rather than focussing on a specific technical issue, and many are bitonal. The results are a wonderfully haunting and skittish sequence of short pieces. Each one a particular colour, with a general sense of a romantic, chromatic wash pervading the movements. Melodies are often quite expressionistic in style, and the use of bitonality creates a lovely aura of harmonic uncertainty. The group finishes with Etude 12: Presto which sees the hands chasing each other about the keyboard in madcap fashion.
Finally Hammond plays the Five Etudes in Different Intervals, Op.68 by Nikolai Kapustin (written in 1992). Kapustin trained as a pianist, but his style fuses classical and jazz elements. Though not a jazz composer, his technically challenging etudes include startlingly jazz-like elements. Each etude focusses on a particular interval so in Etude 1: Allegro the right hand plays almost exclusively in minor seconds (or the inversion, the major seventh). It is fast and chromatic, again with a Nancarrow-ish feel to the regularity of the motivic structures, but with jazz rhythms underlying as well. The whole feels, at times, like a demented boogie-woogie. Etude 2: Allegro concentrates on fourths and fifths, it is dark in texture but still busy with jazz and blues hints in the left hand. Etude 3: Animato is in sixths; this is a skittish movement with more transparent textures. Still very fast, Kapustin's wit comes out at the end. Etude 4: Vivace is in major second, is fast and intense with some fabulous jazz-rhythms coming out of the melee. Finally Etude 5: Animato is in octaves, the use of the octave in the right hand giving the piece a more open texture with Kapustin combining this with scalic figures. I enjoyed the Kapustin etudes very much, as he combines fiendish technique with a lovely exuberance and wit.
This is a stunning disc on many levels. Clare Hammond dazzles with the extended techniques which the various pieces demand, but she also creates highly musical structures. And the programme itself is a fascinating exploration of the way composers have used the etude to extend both pianistic and compositional techniques."
'The piano study or ‘Étude’ has long engaged and challenged pianists, and the practice of writing etudes to provide practice material for perfecting a particular musical skill or technique developed in the early 19th century alongside the growing popularity of the piano. Many of us will remember working on studies by the likes of Clementi and Czerny as young piano students. But it was Fryderyk Chopin who elevated the student study into a work of great artistry and beauty, turning humble exercises into glittering concert pieces, and his Opp. 10 and 25 Études remain amongst the most popular works written for piano. Other notable composers of Études were Liszt, Alkan, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy, and the practice of writing piano etudes has continued into the modern area with composers such as Ligeti, Cage and Kapustin.
On her new disc for BIS, British pianist Clare Hammond explores the Étude in works by Lyapunov, Szymanowski, Kapustin and Chin, a truly international line up of composers (Russia, Poland and South Korea). The imaginative programme combines some of the most electrifying and adventurous piano works of the 20th and 21st centuries, ranging from the impassioned late-Romanticism of Sergei Lyapunov to the jazz-inspired rhythms of Nicolai Kapustin and the mercurial, post-Debussyan soundworld of Unsuk Chin. For Clare Hammond the choice of works on this disc represents some of the most innovative, invigorating and imaginative writing for piano and the opportunity to explore what the piano is truly capable of. All the Études on the disc fulfil the traditional criteria of the Étude (in the Chopinesque sense) of a piece which combines the excitement of technical and virtuosic display with expression, colour and compositional inventiveness.
This disc is not only a showcase for the variety and ingenuity of these composers, but also a fine vehicle for Clare Hammond to demonstrate a sparkling technical sure-footedness, clarity of touch and musical sensitivity (particularly in the Études by Chin, which are, by Clare’s own admission, extremely difficult). The works by Chin are more closely aligned to Clare’s particular interest in lesser-known and contemporary piano repertoire, for which she has received much praise, and these virtuosic and playful études skip and dance across the keyboard with wit, colour and vitality.
Clare brings a richness to the works by Lyapunov with which the disc begins. They recall the soundworld of Rachmaninoff in their scale and textures, and are modelled directly on Liszt’s set of the same title (Études d’exécution transcendante).
Karol Szymanowski’s Twelve Etudes, Op 33 share Chin’s interest in pianistic colour, and are more closely related the Études of Debussy rather than his fellow countryman Chopin. Fleet and mercurial, Clare deftly captures their transitory moods and luminous colours, dancing rhythms and haunting sonorities, while handling their technical demands with aplomb.
Finally, Five Études in Different Intervals complete this fascinating survey of the enduring appeal of the piano etude. Composed by Nikolai Kapustin, they are characteristic of his output, fusing formal classical structures with idioms drawn from jazz, which Kapustin studied from the age of 16. Clare pulls them off with precision and wit, and an evident relish for this kind of writing for the piano.'
Read more at Cross-Eyed Pianist.
"Clare Hammond's second audiophile release on BIS is simply titled Étude, though her program is a bit unexpected and quite exciting for its fresh material. Instead of playing the most familiar études in the piano repertoire, such as the sets by Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninov, Hammond explores the keyboard studies of Sergey Lyapunov, Unsuk Chin, Karol Szymanowski, and Nikolai Kapustin, which make fascinating listening for anyone venturing beyond the standard fare. While etudes are usually focused on the development of specific keyboard techniques, composers since the Romantic era have also infused them with strong moods and dramatic gestures, often treating them as character pieces or short tone poems. The three etudes from Lyapunov's set of 12 Études d'exécution transcendante are lush and atmospheric, and rather reminiscent of early Rachmaninov in their intense surges and rhythmic dynamism. By way of contrast, Chin's piano etudes are elaborate structures built on angular lines, short gestures, and pan-chromatic harmonies, employing the most complex of modern piano techniques. Szymanowski's set of 12 Studies bridges the divide between Romantic and modern styles, yet shares a certain similarity to the etudes of another great pianist-composer on the stylistic cusp, Alexander Scriabin. Kapustin's jazzy Five Études in Different Intervals tackles the problem of executing parallel intervals, though the studies on minor seconds, major seconds, and fourths reflect their common use in modern harmony. Hammond's playing is consistently energetic and brilliant, and through it, she convincingly demonstrates that this body of work should be much better known."
"Ale i tak miejsca koncertów były oblegane. Nic dziwnego. Weźmy choćby koncert Lasoń Ensemble (14 lipca, Teatr Witkacego) albo recital Clare Hammond (11 lipca, Galeria Orskiego). Ciekawie dobrany repertuar (Szymanowski, Lasoń, Panufnik), bardzo dobrzy wykonawcy. Clare Hammond jest objawieniem brytyjskiej sceny muzycznej, ceniona przez krytyków za siłę, precyzję i muzykalność, co zakopiański recital tylko potwierdził (notabene Hammond 25 sierpnia wystąpi na festiwalu „Chopin i jego Europa”)."
Click here for a translation.
"Данный компакт-диск включает фортепианную музыку выдающегося польского композитора Анджея Пануфника и его дочери Роксаны Пануфник. Наряду с произведениями, написанными для рояля, здесь есть другие опусы в переложениях Роксаны Пануфник. Анджей Пануфник приступил к сочинению цикла 12 пьес «Квинтовый круг» («Klag kwintowy») в 1947 году после пятилетнего творческого застоя в годы войны (это время композитор провел в Варшаве). Миниатюрные штудии – каждая длится чуть больше минуты – располагаются по квинтовому кругу (отсюда название): тоники до диез, фа диез, си и т.д. Пьесы объединены одной темой, резко контрастируют друг с другом по темпу и динамике и оставляют ощущение узоров, неожиданно возникающих при поворотах трубки калейдоскопа. В основе вокализов для сопрано и рояля «Hommage à Chopin» лежат народные мелодии области Мазовия, где родился Шопен; на диске представлены три из пяти вокализов. Пятичастная «Пентасоната», увидевшая свет в год 70-летия композитора (1984), основана на пентатоновом звукоряде, обрамлена частями в пятидольных размерах (пента – пентатоника, пять частей, пять долей). В книге «Смысл и содержание моей музыки» Пануфник признается, что, работая над этим, как и над другими своими сочинениями, он стремился достичь «баланса между умом и сердцем, интеллектом и эмоциями». «Молитва» (1991) основана также на вокальном оригинале: двух произведениях для голоса и рояля на стихи Ежи Петркевича; Анджей Пануфник положил на музыку полностью только одно стихотворение, тогда как вторая пьеса представляет собой стихи, декламируемый под музыкальную версию второго стиха. «Отражения» (1968) наглядно показывают приверженность композитора зеркальным формам и музыкально-геометрическим орнаментам, служащим структурной основой большинства его сочинений. Наконец, на диске представлена пьеса «Второй дом» Роксаны Пануфник, которая представляет собой вариации на тему польской народной песни. Вся эта музыка в мастерском, вдохновенном, ярком и вместе с тем необыкновенно бережном исполнении превосходной пианистки Клэр Хэммонд оставляет впечатление чистоты, незамутненности, целомудрия и красоты, чему способствует великолепное звучание SACD-издания BIS. Думается, Анджею Пануфнику удавалось достигать вершинного для искусства вообще «баланса между умом и сердцем, интеллектом и эмоциями»."
Click here for a translation.
"Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was a Polish composer and conductor born in Warsaw. His father, Tomasz Panufnik, a violinmaker, and mother, Matylda Thonnes Panufnik, a noted violinist, pianist and composer, exposed him to music from an early age. In 1932, at the age of 17, he entered the Warsaw Conservatory to study at first percussion, later majoring in both theory and composition. After the completion of his degree, he travelled to Vienna to study conducting with Felix Weingartner, eventually following him, after the Anschluss, first to Paris, then London. But he returned to Warsaw during the war ywars, participating in the highly restricted musical life of the city, most notably performing with Lutosławski in duo-piano concerts. Many of his early works were destroyed, not due to the war, but rather to a female tenant that had moved into his apartment when he left to care for his ailing mother - she saw the papers and assumed that they were all trash. His interest in various Modernist techniques caused him strife in the then Stalinist controlled Poland. In the mid-1950s, while on tour in Zurich, he made his move to escape his homeland, eventually settling in England and becoming a British citizen in 1961. It was not until 1990 that he returned to Poland, now a country with a democratically elected government. He was knighted in 1991.
But this release features not only that composer's music, but also the music of Roxanna Panufnik, the composer's daughter. Born in London in 1968, Roxanna, too, had musical exposure from an early age, later studying at London's Royal Academy of Music. She has gone on to composer a wide range of compositions - opera, ballet, choral works, chamber music, music for film and television, and solo piano works - which are performed the world over. The current release features her original compositions, but also reworkings or arrangements of her father's works, originally for voice and piano, for solo piano.
Andrzej Panufnik has three major works for solo piano. The 12 Miniature Studies (1947, rev. 1955/1964), which were initially called Circle of Fifths, is comprised of a series of études beginning in C sharp (Major / Minor) and successively moving down a fifth at a time, until finally reaching the key of G sharp, a fifth above the first; each étude shares a similar melodic line, so that interest in maintained through the contrast of tempo, dynamics, meter, and other musical aspects. Reflections (1968) was completed within days of the birth of Roxanna. It is, in the composer's own words, representative of "contemplation… and reflections in the tangible sense… based on constant reflections of a single triad with its perpetual transpositions used both vertically and horizontally." It is a sparse-sounding work, with an angular melodic line, and harmonic clusters reminiscent in sound of Bartók's night music. The Pentasonata (1984) is the composer's last work for piano, written in the composer's 70th year, and dedicated to his wife. The work predominantly uses a pentatonic scale, and is composed of five sections, the first and last of which use a meter of 5/8 or 5/4. The beginning and ending play with the meter creating fascinating rhythmic features, while the middle of the work is more slow and contemplative. It is a perfect example of the composer's will to "achieve a balance between heart and mind, intellect and emotion."
The transcriptions of Modlitwa (1990/1999, arr. 2013), based on an unfinished song, and the three (of five) songs, set as a miniature suite here entitled Hommage à Chopin (1949/1955, arr. 2013), are both lyrical compositions, similar in feeling, and - besides the playfully quirky second of the Chopin settings - all meditative in nature. The original compositions of Roxanna Panufnik are comprised of two works here. Second Home (2003, rev. 2006) is, according to the pianist and booklet writer, "a series of variations on the Polish folk theme Hejne ino, fijołecki leśny! and expresses her sentiments for her father's Polish homeland." The second work, Glo, is short, a minute-and-a-half in length, and was written to commemorate the death of a family friend.
Throughout this recital Clare Hammond proves to be a very fine advocate of this music. Her interpretations match the goal of the composer: Not only are they well thought out and intellectually stimulating, but also energetic, emotionally moving, and full of a whole spectrum of colours - in a word, bracing. Recorded in excellent SACD sound, particularly luminous, and with well written and informative program notes, this is a release that everyone should own. Buy it. You'll enjoy it for years to come."
'The BIS Recording brings together some outstanding piano music by Panufnik senior, stunningly performed by Clare Hammond, and recent work by his daughter as well as a couple of ‘retrospective collaborations’, including a solo piano version of the Modlitwa heard on the Signum disc. Andrzej’s dazzling skill and imagination is immediately apparent in the wonderful Twelve Miniature Studies (1947, rev 1955/64) that opens the recital. Why this 20-minute set, full of invention, beauty and excitement, is not in the repertoire of more pianists is a mystery.
Hommage à Chopin is an arrangement by Roxanna of three of Andrzej’s five vocalises of that name for solo piano, and they are truly haunting, as is the transcription of Modlitwa. The late Pentasonata is relatively well known but a performance as vivacious and, at the same time, as attentive to detail as Hammond’s makes one listen to it as though for the first time - BIS’s superb production also plays a part in this.
Reflections, from 1968, is grittier but the musical and philosophical preoccupations are essentially the same, and Hammond is as convincing in the earlier style as in the later. Between these two works come Roxanna’s Second Home and Glo. The way Hammond plays the opening repeated notes of Second Home would alone be worth the price of the disc.'
'Best known for his big orchestral works, Andrzej Panufnik had a mixed relationship with the piano. Though he failed a piano entrance exam at the Warsaw Conservatoire, Panufnik survived the war as a café pianist, and one of his first works when he was able to resume composition was written at the keyboard and eventually published as the 12 Miniature Studies. Premiered in Kraków in 1948 and based on the circle of fifths, they already show his preoccupation with patterns and symmetry. Most last less than a minute, yet they are strongly contrasted and prove arresting in Clare Hammond’s commandingly virtuosic performance.
Geometric forms also inspired Panufnik’s other two works for solo piano, Reflections - composed in 1968 at the time of his daughter Roxanna’s birth and premiered five years later by John Ogdon - and the Pentasonata. Roxanna is represented here as both an arranger of her father’s music and as a composer in her own right. Her first piano piece, Second Homa, weaves variations around a haunting Polish folk tune in satisfyingly scrunchy harmonies, adding variety to Hammond’s imaginative performance.'
'Released to mark the centenary of the birth of Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik, this disc is the first recording to present the works of both Andrzej and his daughter Roxanna side by side. The Panufniks have found a worthy champion in Clare Hammond, whose intelligent performances balance emotional reserve with witty characterisation. The collection includes four world premiere recordings: Hommage à Chopin (written by Andrzej in 1949/55 and arranged by Roxanna in 2013); Glo; Second Home (both by Roxanna); and Modlitwa (penned by father and daughter as co-composers). Hammond, who has worked closely with Roxanna, captures both the brilliance and the brooding in these works. Modlitwa (‘Prayer’, 1990/99, arr 2013), was originally written for voice and keyboard; its sparse textures use mainly the middle to upper registers, creating an ethereal quality. Second Home is Roxanna’s first piece for piano. A set of variations on a Polish folk theme, it is curiously evocative, with ample use of the pedal. A fascinating compendium, expertly executed.'
'I believe this is all of Andrzej Panufnik's (1914-91) piano works. The two most extensive ones - Reflections (1968) and Pentasonata (1984) - have been performed previously by Raymond Clarke on Divine Arts and enthusiastically reviewed by Mr Sullivan (Mar / Apr 2003). This release also includes the 12 Miniature Studies (1947, rev. 1955 & 1964) along with two other works, Hommage à Chopin (1949 & 1955, arr. 2013) and Prayer (1990 & 1999, arr. 2013), arranged or with newly composed additions by the composer's daughter, Roxanna.
Though Panufnik is known principally as an orchestral composer, his piano music shows a sensitive and masterly understanding of the instrument's tonal resources as well as a variety of playing styles and textures, deftly illustrated in the brief but compelling Studies. The idiom is dissonant, but with conventional phrasing and, from time to time, a suggestion of a kind of tonal hierarchy.
Clare Hammond, who was a central figure in the Panufnik centenary of 2014, performs with authority and great imagination. She includes two works by Roxanna, Second Home (2003, rev. 2006) and Glo (2002): the former, her first work for piano, is a series of arresting variations on a Polish folk song; it is by turns lyrical and richly chordal. Glo is a short work written in memory of a friend who died of cancer. The BIS sound is, as usual, stunning'.
'On connaît Andrzej Panufnik pour ses oeuvres orchestrales (cf. le vaste cycle entrepris depuis plusieurs années par Lukasz Borowicz chez CPO, cf. infra). Il fut l'ami de Lutoslawski, son aîné d'un an, avec qui il donna des concerts clandestins durant l'occupation nazie de la Pologne, puis s'exila à Londres, menant une double carrière de compositeur et de chef.
Son catalogue pour piano tient en trois oeuvres. Les Douze études miniature de 1947 (révisées entre 1955 et 1964) s'organisent en miroir, faisant alterner tempos et dynamiques. Nervosité ludique (no. 3), dépouillement (no. 4), sérénité parfaitement communicative (no. 10), violence sardonique d'aigus effilés, basses traitées en mélodie flamboyante (no. 5), accélération fantastique (no. 12): autant de révélations, dignes d'enrichir le répertoire des virtuoses.
A l'autre bout de la vie créatrice de Panufnik trône la Pentasonata (1984), d'un accès moins immédiat. A partir d'une construction en palindrome, le compositeur a essayé de "parvenir à un équilibre entre coeur et esprit, intellect et émotion". Elle se clôt comme elle avait commencé, animée d'une vive impatience, tranchant ainsi avec l'hermétisme de sa partie centrale. Le sens du contraste innerve également les austères Reflections de 1968, créées par John Ogdon, dont les accords dissonants et éruptifs font suite à une atmosphère quelque peu désincarnée.
Hormis deux pages de Roxanna Panufnik, dans la continuité de celles de son père (telle l'introduction méditative de Second Home), le disque propose des arrangements de mélodies. Le beau triptyque intitulé Hommage à Chopin dévoile successivement un faisceau de sentiments ambigus, un pantin désarticulé, sorte de Pétrouchka de fantaisie, puis un paysage qu'on dirait moyenâgeux, dessiné au moyen de riches accords. Avec Prière (Modlitwa), Panufnik achevait sa quête d'une simplicité et d'une pureté quasi religieuses.
Clare Hammond, indéniablement habitée pas son sujet, excelle à installer dans chaque pièce une ambiance.'
Click here for a translation.
'Der polnische Komponist Andrzej Panufnik (1914 – 1991) ist kein Unbekannter, er ist aber auch nicht wirklich bekannt. In diesem einerseits positiven, im Allgemeinen aber für den Betroffenen und sein Schaffen unliebsamen Spannungsverhältnis steht auch der aus Warschau stammende Sohn eines Saiteninstrumentenbauers und einer „talentierten Geigerin , Pianistin und Komponistin englischer Abstammung“. Panufnik überlebte die furchtbare Zeit der deutschen Besatzung, engagierte sich mit seinem Freund Witold Lutoslawski im Widerstand. Mit Untergrundkonzerten sammelten sie Geld für die Kämpfer und natürlich auch für jüdische Künstler. Vier Widerstandslieder aus dem Untergrund zeugen von diesen lebensgefährlichen Initiativen auch in kompositorischer Hinsicht.
Der englischen Pianistin Clare Hammond ist es zu danken, sich um die Klavierwerke Panufniks nicht nur im Umkreis seines 100. Geburtstags angemessen zu kümmern, sondern mit klug und spontan wirkendem, technisch wendigen Einsatz auch dessen Ausdrucksradius überzeugend abbilden zu können. Die Zwölf Miniatur-Etüden von 1947, die 1955 und 1964 überarbeitet wurden, stehen nicht nur am Anfang der gewählten Werkfolge, sie sind aus meiner Sicht – zumindest im Bereich dieser Zusammenstellung – von zentraler Bedeutung. Dieses Miniaturen-Dutzend entwarf Panufnik nach einer fünfjährigen Schaffenspause unter traditionellen Gesichtspunkten der Tonartenbeziehungen. Die erste Etüde steht in Cis (Dur/moll), die zweite in der Unterquinte Fis, die dritte in H und so fort. Folglich sollte diese Sammlung auch „Quintenzirkel“ heißen, Panufnik entschied sich aber für die Etüden-Bezeichnung. Die kleinen, sich allenfalls nach der 3 Minuten-Decke reckenden Stücke sind – soweit ich das ohne Kenntnis der Noten zu beurteilen wage – von einem durchschnittlichen Schwierigkeitsgrad, der dem versierten Dilettanten reichlich Probleme bringt, einem im Umgang mit „heutiger“ Musik geübten professionellen Spieler aber kaum den Schweiß auf die Finger treibt.
Originell ist nicht nur die tonartliche Anordnung der 12 Bonsai-Übungen, sondern ihr dynamisches Kontrastprogramm. Einem „ Sempre fortissimo…“ folgt jeweils ein „Sempre pianissimo…“, wobei die geforderten Dauerlaut- und leisestärken durch eine weitere Vortragsbezeichnung ergänzt werden. Die vollständige Durchführungsanweisung lautet so zum Beispiel:für die Etüde Nummer 5: „Sempre fortissimo e molto agitato“. Allein die Finaletüde Nr. 12 gibt sich etwas biegsamer und damit weniger stabil im Ausdruck. In diesem Fall wird an die Vortragende appelliert, „ Pianissimo e crescendo poco a poco il fortissimo“ vorzugehen, wobei dem Hörer wohl klar werden sollte, dass Panufnik hier die Summe aus all dem Geübten und Gelernten zu ziehen wünscht.
Diese Miniaturen sind mit Gewinn zu hören, sind abwechslungsreich nicht nur wegen ihrer konträren Ausgangsstellung, sondern auch von der technischen wie motivischen Erfindung her. Wer sich mit ihnen beschäftigt, so meine ich, der vergeudet keine Zeit. Problematischer verhält es sich mit den anderen hier eingespielten Stücken der Jahre 1968 (Refelctions) und 1984, einer Pentasonata von 13 Minuten sich etwas lauwarm anfühlender Spieldauer. Hier wird deutlich, wie viel prägender und damit einprägsamer die Werke Lutoslawskis oder auch Pendereckis waren und bis zum heutigen Tag auch geblieben sind.
Mit von der CD-Partie ist auch Andrzej Panufniks Tochter Roxanna, die sich hier auf milde Weise schöpferisch, in handwerklicher Diskretion auch nachschöpferisch in Stellung bringt. Von den fünf Vocalises für Sopran und Klavier hat sie die Nummern 1, 4 und 5 als nun rein klavieristische „Hommage à Chopin“ arrangiert. Ein spätes Liedgebet ihres Vaters (Modlitwa) hat sie vollendet und 2013 für Klavier solo umgestaltet. Und schließlich spielt Clare Hammond auch noch zwei Originalkompositionen der Panufnik-Tochter – eine artige Zu- und Beigabe zur Vervollständigung eines Familienporträts, nicht mehr, aber auch nicht weniger…
Wer sich etwas eingehender mit der Persönlichkeit Andrzej Panufniks befassen möchte, dem sei eine bei Naxos erschienene Zusammenstellung mit dem Polnischen Kammerorchester unter der Leitung von Smolij Mariusz empfohlern (8.570032). Sie enthält u.a. eine Altpolnische Suite für Streicher, ein Concerto in Modo antico und Fünf Stücke für Flöte und Streicher erneut mit dem Titel „Hommage à Chopin“.'
Click here for a translation.
'Während auf Schallplatte in letzter Zeit vor allem die Orchestermusik Andrzej Panufniks veröffentlicht wurde, widmet sich diese Produktion ausschließlich der Klaviermusik und bringt auch zwei Stücke der Tochter Roxanna Panufnik, ein von Vater und Tochter gemeinsam komponiertes Stück sowie ein Arrangement eines Ensemblestücks zu Gehör. Die Interpretin ist die junge britische Pianistin Clare Hammond, die damit eine wichtige Publikation in dem Jahr veröffentlicht, in dem die Musikwelt Panufniks 100. Geburtstag feiert.
Dass neben den 12 Miniaturen, der ‘Pentasonata’ und ‘Reflections’ noch andere Musik auf dem Programm steht, ist normal, denn Panufnik hat wirklich nur drei Werke für Soloklavier geschrieben. Die 12 Miniaturen entstanden 1947 und waren eines der ersten Werke nach dem Krieg. Es entstand noch in Polen, wo Panufnik wegen seiner Musik gemaßregelt wurde und einer strikten Kontrolle unterlag, die er schließlich nicht mehr ertrug. Er unternahm einen geglückten Fluchtversuch und ging nach England ins Exil, wo er bis zu seinem Tode im Jahre 1991 lebte.
Die Miniaturen sind, wie so viele von Panufniks Werken, nach geometrischen Mustern konstruiert, aber die Musik zeigt dieses Konstruierte nicht. Der Hörer erlebt sie vor allem als eine ungeheuer abwechslungsreiche, farblich sehr vielfältige Serie von kleinen Stücken, deren Kontraste Clare Hammond sehr gut zum Ausdruck bringt.
‘Hommage à Chopin’ ist ein Arrangement von Roxanna Panufnik einer Suite für Gesang und Klavier, die sich auf Volksmusik aus der Gegend stützt, wo Chopin geboren wurde.
Die ‘Pentasonata’ wurde 1984 komponiert. Das Werk ist bei aller intellektueller Kraft im Konzept immer aussagekräftig und streckenweise tief emotional.
‘Modlitwa’ ist ein zweistrophiges Gebet, von dem Andrzej Panufnik nur eine Strophe vertont hat. Die zweite wurde von seiner Tochter vertont, die das ganze Werk danach auch noch für Soloklavier arrangierte. Es ist eine schlichte, aber sehr reflektive Melodie, die gerade mit dem alleinigen Klavierklang sehr eloquent wird.
‘Reflections’, Panufniks zweites Klavierstück, entstand wenige Tage nach der Geburt Roxannas, technisch auf Reflexionen eines Dreiklangs aufgebaut, darüber hinaus aber auch eine Art Kontemplation.
‘Second Home’ von Roxanna Panufnik ist eine Variationsfolge über ein polnisches Volkslied, das kurze Stück ‘Glo’ ein ‘In memoriam’ für einen an Krebs verstorbenen Freund der Familie.
Der klangvolle Anschlag von Clare Hammond wird auch diesen Stücken bestens gerecht, und da die Tontechniker von BIS einmal mehr eine sehr gute Arbeit geleistet haben, hinterlässt die CD ein ganz positiven Eindruck.
In this mixed program with works by Andrzej Panufnik and his daughter Roxanna, Clare Hammonds playing is superb. The pianist has obviously assimilated this music so well that she can fully concentrate on the rhetoric and expressive elements and give the music a full-bodied sound.'
Click here for a translation.
'Ein weniger bekannter Jubilar in diesem Jahr ist der polnische Komponist Andrzej Panufnik. Im Herbst feiert die Musikwelt seinen 100. Geburtstag. Ewa Kupiec beispielsweise hat sein fast vergessenes Klavierkonzert eingespielt. Die junge britische Pianistin Clare Hammond widmet sich dem Klavier-Solorepertoire. Auf der CD befinden sich zudem auch zwei Stücke der Tochter Roxana Panufnik, ein von Vater und Tochter gemeinsam komponiertes Stück sowie ein Arrangement eines Ensemblewerks. Die "12 Miniaturen" entstanden 1947 - in einer Zeit, in der Panufnik noch in Polen arbeitete. Später emigrierte er aufgrund der strengen kulturellen Kontrollen und Sanktionen nach England, wo er bis zu seinem Tod 1991 lebte. "In meiner Musik versuche ich stets die Balance zwischen Gefühl und Intellekt zu halten" so Panufnik. Sein Stück "Reflections" entstand 1968, kurz nach der Geburt der Tochter. Das zweistrophige Gebet "Modlitwa" komponierten Andrzej Panufnik und seine Tochter gemeinsam. Insbesondere "Second Home" und das kurze Stück "Glo" zeigen, wie sehr sich in seiner Musik schlichte Melodien und emotionaler Gehalt mit durchdachten Strukturen paaren. Viele Werke, darunter auch seine "Pentasonata", wurden nach geometrischen Mustern konstruiert, hörbar wird dies jedoch nicht. Die farbenreiche Vielfalt und vor allem die reichen Kontraste dieser Musik bringt Clare Hammond sehr schön zum Ausdruck. Eine gelungene Hommage an einen Komponisten, der hierzulande noch wenig bekannt ist.'
Click here for a translation.
2014 marks the centenary of the birth of Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik. Born in Warsaw on 24 September 1914 to musical parents, Panufnik died in 1991 at the age of 77, by which time he was recognised as one of the most important Polish composers of his generation. Today he is remembered chiefly for his orchestral works (he was also an accomplished conductor, heading the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1957 to 1959), but this new disc from BIS concentrates on a smaller and lesser-known corner of his output: his piano music.
As pianist Clare Hammond points out in her illuminating booklet notes, Panufnik's three surviving works for piano intersect key moments of his life and musical development. Panufnik originally studied in Warsaw, then with the conductor Felix Weingartner in Vienna, Paris and London. At the outbreak of war, and against Weingartner's advice, he returned to Poland, where he took part in resistance activities and gave underground concerts. Immediately after the war, Panufnik played a key part in the rebuilding of musical life in Warsaw, re-establishing the Warsaw Philharmonic, conducting, and composing film music to support his family.
His Twelve Miniature Studies date from 1947: they are engaging but technically demanding works, all based on the same melodic line, each contrasting starkly with its predecessor in tempo and dynamics, and following the Circle of Fifths (their original title) from C sharp, through F sharp, all the way round to G sharp. Here they receive a deft performance from Clare Hammond, who charts their contrasting characters with great skill.
From 1948, life in Communist Poland became increasingly difficult for Panufnik, and in 1954, while conducting in Zurich, he managed to give his 'minders' the slip and flew to England, where he remained based for the rest of his life (he was knighted in 1991). While his music had been deemed too progressive in his homeland, in England it was felt by the musical establishment to be too conservative. Nevertheless, following his marriage to Camilla Jessel in 1963 he became increasingly productive. His next piano work, Reflections, was completed in spring 1968, just days after the birth of his daughter Roxanna. It is a contemplative work, whose gaunt mysticism seems to evoke the world of Messiaen's piano music, and it is performed here with great sensitivity and a hushed intensity.
Like Reflections, the music of the Pentasonata of 1984 bears witness to Panufnik's fascination with symmetrical patterns, 'seeking to achieve a balance between heart and mind, intellect and emotion'. It's a powerful piece from his 'late' period, and the title is an apt one, for the work is arranged palindromically in five sections, is based on the pentatonic scale, and its outer sections are cast in quintuple metre. Again, there are moments which come close to Messiaen, and this most ambitious of Panufnik's solo piano works receives a highly persuasive and commanding performance.
Roxanna Panufnik has also become a successful composer in her own right, and the two piano pieces included here are, like her father's, reflective and accessible while setting formidable technical challenges. Second Home (2003) is a set of variations on a Polish folk tune, but also has its jazzy moments, while Glo (2002) is more intimate, a memorial to a family friend.
The programme is completed by two arrangements by Roxanna of her father's music: Hommage à Chopin is a recent adaptation of three evocative vocalises dating from 1949, while Modlitwa ('Prayer') is a beautiful completion and arrangement of a song from 1990. The playing throughout the disc is a joy, and Hammond clearly knows her way around this music in intimate detail. This is an ideal opportunity to celebrate the Panufnik Centenary while exploring some of his less well known repertoire. Strongly recommended!
'This is a father-and-daughter release of engaging piano music by Andrzej Panufnik (1914-91) and Roxanna Panufnik (born 1968). His Twelve Miniature Studies are superbly crafted and full of interest; Clare Hammond brings amazing dexterity and sensitivity to them. As she does to his 13-minute Pentasonata (1984) and the lightly shorter Reflections (1968); both make for intriguing listening whether the textures are complex or spare: here is a musical mind of individuality, one who left us something to search for beyond the notes while also ensuring outgoing and meaningful communication. Of Roxanna’s pieces, Second Home is a slow folksong-inspired piece with crunchy harmonies, and Glo is a touching memorial to a deceased friend. Other short pieces are included by Andrzej and remind of his Polish heritage, and are arranged or completed by Roxanna. This is a very welcome recital, played with the utmost dedication, and very well recorded.' (See the Classical Ear app online.)
'Andrzej Panufnik managed to settle in Western Europe in the late 1930s but returned to his native Poland when war broke out, giving underground concerts with Lutosławski to raise funds for resistance workers. After a break of several years, he eased himself back into composition with a 1947 cycle of Twelve Miniature Studies for solo piano. They're fabulous, assured music, each study based on the same thematic material, descending in fifths until all the keys are covered. Panufnik can do thumping virtuosity, but the most affecting studies are the quieter, nocturnal ones – no 4 a rapt slice of Bartókian night music, the eighth a wistful folk-tinged elegy. Folk influences are more overt in piano transcriptions of three vocalises for soprano and piano, Panufnik's 1949 Hommage à Chopin, neatly arranged here by the composer's daughter Roxanna. The compositional processes are invariably sophisticated, but never intrude – Reflections, completed within days of Roxanna's birth in 1968, is built upon transpositions and reflections of a simple triad, and 1984's Pentasonata is built around five beat rhythms and the pentatonic scale.
Roxanna's own piano output compliments that of her father. Second Home's elegant, sophisticated variations on a Polish folk theme are followed by a tiny miniature composed in memory of a family friend. Modlitwa brings father and daughter together; Andrzej's prayer setting left unfinished, the text's second verse elaborated posthumously by Roxanna. This is a fascinating, rewarding recital; both composers' pieces recall and suggest the music of others – Bartók and Lutosławski the strongest influences – but they've very distinct, personal identities. Clare Hammond's performances exude warmth and authority, and her Steinway is impeccably recorded.'
This (2014) is Andrzej Panufnik’s centenary year. The celebrations are set out in a well detailed website and reflected in the magnificent CPO orchestral series conducted by Lukasz Borowicz. I should add that the Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hull will be playing the Sinfonia Sacra at Saffron Hall on 22 November 2014 (0845 548 7650).
The contrast between Old Testament fury and New Testament whispered prayer is often a feature of Panufnik’s orchestral works. Examples can be found in his glorious Sinfonia Elegiaca and the slightly more oblique Piano Concerto, both of which are being played at Symphony Hall by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Peter Donohoe on Panufnik’s birthday on 24 September 2014 (0121 345 0600). Those two works formed a large part of my initiation into Panufnik's world from a Radio 3 studio broadcast circa 1975 by Malcolm Binns with the composer conducting the BBC Scottish to mark the composer's 60th birthday. The Elegiaca still strikes me as one of his most unshakably potent works.
Those polar opposites of violent desperation and still calm are also at play — if that is the word — in the composer’s piano music. The Twelve Miniature Studies could easily have been academic. They turn out to be miniature and contrasted facets of the composer's personality. Taking a few examples: I: a breathless crystalline cascade of notes of such motoric drive you might almost imagine them as one of Conlon Nancarrow's pianola studies. II: a confiding introspection of the type by which the composer is known from his Sinfonia Sacra. IV: a hypnotically bluesy quiet tolling. V: a galloping angular 'blocky' rush. VIII: a dewy dream. XII: excitement released yet barely contained in a distorted reflection of the first of the studies.
Roxanna Panufnik - herself a composer of some eminence - first appears here as the arranger of three movements from her father’s Hommage á Chopin. This work we may know from its version for flute and strings (1949, rev. 1955) a recording of which has been reviewed here. This in turn began life as Five Vocalises for soprano and piano; I would like to hear that. These are no Chopin facsimiles – nothing like Silvestrov’s composer pastiches - but a genuine personal homage and of some moment. The final Andante for example is distinctively Panufnik: accessible but not facile.
The 12 minute Pentasonata is governed by the number five; indeed number and geometrical schemes are to be found at the heart of several of his works. It was the composer's stated aim in this work: ‘to achieve a balance between heart and mind, intellect and emotion’. Along the way in this his single largest continuously playing piece we encounter plangent Tippett-like bluesy pages, the fragmented shards of what feels like a nightmare, descents into taciturn silence and trailing strands. This is one of the composer's most overtly angular and modernistic works: a dark pilgrimage indeed. Like everything here it is thoughtfully and powerfully put across by Clare Hammond. Her engineer collaborators at Bis have done their usual handsome service at every professional, technical and presentational turn.
The joint father-daughter piece Modlitwa (Prayer) began as a work for voice and keyboard. It was arranged and completed by the daughter after her father’s death. It is a touching and unhurried piece – almost sentimental. It would play well in the company of PMD’s Farewell to Stromness. It is redolent of similar passages in the Heroic Overture and Sinfonia Sacra. A similar tolling, both imposing and smiling, runs at first through Roxanna Panufnik’s Second Home – a set of variations on the polish folk-theme Hejze ino, fijolecko lesny. This soon picks up a jazzy impulse which in turn fades quite magically into a slowly progressed reflection. Her very brief and slowly self-focused Glo was written in memory of a family friend who died of cancer.
We are told that Andrzej Panufnik’s Reflections, which was written shortly after the birth of Roxanna is testimony to the composer's life-long fascination with mirror forms and geometric patterns. It's typically calm, self-absorbed and mesmeric with its dark waters stirred from time to time. Its language is not far removed from that of the Miniature Studies but looks forward to the at times unforgivingly jagged contouring of the Pentasonata.
Clare Hammond provides the programme note complete with a diagrammatic representation of the Miniature Studies which began life as Circle of Fifths.
We should note that there is a Divine Art disc of the Miniature Studies, Pentasonata and Reflections by Raymond Clarke. It couples these three works with some Shostakovich and include neither the Chopin Homage nor the Roxanna Panufnik works.
A strong disc from Clare Hammond with genuine music that ranges from instantly gratifying to something more iron-clad requiring time and repetition.
'New from the Swedish BIS label is a collection of Panufnik's piano music, from the Twelve Miniature Studies of 1947 (revised in the 1950s and '60s), the Homage à Chopin (arranged by the composer's daughter, Roxanna, whose work also appears on this CD - her piece of 2003, Second Home), and a collaboration between father and daughter, Modlitwa or 'Prayer'. The pianist, Clare Hammond, executes this repertoire with enormous technical panache and total concentration - as this emphatically 20th century music (sometimes, to my ears, in the manner of Bela Bartok) makes clear demands of both performer and listener, although a softer lyricism enters into the composer's Chopin homage. Clare Hammond was acclaimed by The Daily Telegraph as a soloist of "amazing power", and her name is well known to visitors to the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place in London. Panufnik's Twelve Miniatures must be close to her heart, for it seems as though this succession of short, instantaneous pieces becomes a much "greater" work in her hands. A fascinating and rewarding disc - BIS capturing the depths and detail of the Steinway Grand Piano with complete mastery.'
'This year's centenary of the birth of Andrzej Panufnik has started to throw up some interesting disc of his music. For BIS Records, pianist Clare Hammond has recorded Panufnik's three major works for solo piano, Twelve Miniature Studies, Pentasonata and Reflections along with his daughter Roxanna Panufnik's arrangement of Andrzej Panufnik's Hommage a Chopin, Roxanna's completion of her father's Modlitwa and Roxanna's own Second Home and Glo. The results providing a satisfying compendium of Panufnik on piano.
Andrzej Panufnik's Twelve Miniature Studies were written in 1947 after Panufnik had had a five year break from serious creative work. Each of the twelve studies is based on the same melodic line, but constrasting with its predecessor in dynamic and tempo. So that the work opens with Sempre fortissimo e moto veloce, followed by Sempre pianissimo e molto legato. Additionally each study is a step further along the circle of fifths, so the the first one is in C sharp, the second in F sharp, the third in B, and so on until the final one is in G sharp. The faster movements are all brilliant runs, vigorous toccatas and nervous energy, whilst the softer ones are spare and more lyric. The result is a fascinating series of tiny character studies.
Written in 1949, Andrzej Panufnik's Hommage a Chopin was originally five vocalises for soprano and piano, with the material coming from folk-music from Mazowia, the central region of Poland where Chopin was born. Roxanna Panufnik has arranged three, nos. 1, 4 and 5 for piano solo. They are short pieces and, like the Twelve Miniature Studies, have the feeling of character studies; the first slow, steady and passacaglia-like, the second perky and sprightly with slower lyric moments, and the third gentle and lyric.
Andrzej Panufnik's Pentasonata was written in 1984, the year he was 70. It is based on the number five, there are five sections arranged palindromically, the material is based on the pentatonic scale, the outer sections are in quintuple time (one in 5/8 the other in 5/4). That said, the work flows naturally and emotionally with any feeling of contrivance that this design might imply. A dramatic, fast and rather expressionist opening leads to a quietly expressive section where Panufnik combines lyricism with a dissonant element in a typical way. The central section is full of dramatic rhetoric, almost like a dialogue, supported by astringent harmony. Sparer textures develop in intensity before something like the opening material returns.
Modlitwa was a setting by Andrzej Panufnik of a prayer by Jerzy Pietrikiewicz, but Andrzej Panufnik set only one verse leaving the second to be narrated. Roxanna has written a setting of the second verse and created a piano solo version of the work. The resulting combined effort it magically haunting with both father and daughter clearly fascinated by the combination of major and minor modes.
Roxanna Panufnik's Second Home was written in 2003 and is a series of variations on a Polish folk-theme, expressing Roxanna's feelings about her father's homeland. The theme starts simple and evocatively, and the variations explore the theme in a variety of textures and complexities before the simplicity of the opening returns. Roxanna Panufnik's Glo was written in memory of a family friend who died. It is a tiny, austere and spare textured piece.
Andrzej Panufnik's Reflections, was his second piano piece written in 1968 within days of the birth of his daughter Roxanna. As the title suggests, the piece is based around Andrzej Panufnik's fascination for mirror forms and geometric patterns; Spare and austere textures, astringent harmonies and a lovely clarity of thought and texture.
The performances from pianist Clare Hammond are all exemplary, and she shows profound sympathy with both Andrzej Panufnik and Roxanna Panufnik's sound worlds. Hammond brings exemplary clarity and lyricism to the music, without neglecting the moments of drama. Hammond's own programme note introduces both composers and their work. A gem of a disc.'.
'"Reflections" is the title of a BIS SACD devoted to piano music of Andrzej Panufnik and his daughter Roxanna played by Clare Hammond. Panufnik (1914-1990), a leading Polish composer of the century, also was important as a conductor (he studied with Felix Weingartner), and played an important part in development of the Warsaw Philharmonic. He composed profusely, his works including 10 symphonies, chamber music, vocal music and for piano some of which is featured on this fine new disk, an appropriate tribute to the centenary of Panufnik's birth. We have his Twelve Miniature Studies, three of his five Hommage à Chopin originally written for soprano and piano here arranged by Roxanna for solo piano (none of them are Chopinesque), the Pentasonata composed in 1984, and Reflections written in 1968, that shows the composer's fascination with mirrors and reflections. Also included are two works by Roxanna, a major composer in her own right: Second Home and Glo, and Modlitwa (Prayer), another song and one of his last works, completed by Roxanna. All of this is intriguing listening, music not heard very often, superbly played by British pianist Clare Hammond, who specializes in contemporary music, and the audio is another example of BIS's superb engineering.'
'This year marks the centenary of the birth of Sir Andrzej Panufnik, the Polish composer who defected to England in 1954, He was known principally for orchestral works, so it’s pleasing to have this recording of his finely constructed piano pieces. Clare Hammond deftly characterises the Miniature Studies, from the glittering first to the elegiac 10th, and brings subtle colouring to the three-movement Hommage a Chopin. Panufnik’s daughter, Roxanna is also represented as composer and arranger in this attractive release.'
'Morning coffee concerts are popular social events, usually oversubscribed, where music also brings to life some of Ryedale’s most beautiful corners. Two recently have been further illuminated by talks given by composers introducing newly-commissioned works.
Deborah Pritchard spoke with passion about synaesthesia - her love-affair with colour as an inspiration in her music - and specifically how paintings by Hughie O’Donoghue animated her new Seven Halts on the Somme, written in close collaboration with Desbruslais’s deft trumpet.
Its poignant contrasts, without gimmickry, subtly subjugate the martial trumpet to an evocative, even remorseful role, frisky against angry piano in Sausage Valley, pensively elegiac in Flatiron Copse, high and muted over shimmering keyboard in Pozières: The Moulin. A moving commemoration, tinged with hope.
In complete contrast, Edwin Roxburgh’s new Pro Patria Mori used extended techniques in an ironic evocation of war’s other dimension, from reveille onwards. It was memorable for Hammond’s majestic pianism.'
Penarth Pier Pavilion is a relatively new venue, a stylish new concert venue having been created in Penarth Pier as part of the 2013 renovations of the pier on the esplanade at Penarth (near Cardiff). This year's Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival has been making good use of the venue. For the festival's final visit to Penarth Pier Pavilion, on May 17, pianist Clare Hammond performed a programme of contemporary music for solo piano. Her programme consisted of a highly varied selection of generally short works, some written specifically for Hammond, including music by John Tavener, Andrew Keeling, John Metcalf, Adam Gorb, Tarik O'Regan, Peter Fribbins, Alan Mills and Robin Walker.
Hammond started with John Tavener's tiny Zodiacs (1997). It opened with a simple bell-like motif which Tavener managed to imbue with his usual fascination. The middle section repeated the same motif, but at a far faster speed, creating a rather attractive moment, before the opening returned.
Composer Andrew Keeling has a varied background, working both in contemporary classical and in rock. His Coniunctio (2013) was written for Clare Hammond and was receiving its world premiere performance.
In the piece Keeling examined the alchemical ideas of the mystical union of King and Queen / Sol and Luna. To this end, Keeling took a piece of plainchant (A Solis Ortus Cardine) and subjected it to a variety of his own transformations, merging it with his own material. The work was in seven movements, each with their own alchemical point. But I have to confess that, from first off I failed to make Keeling's descriptions tie up with what I was hearing and that I simply sat back and let the music flow. Perhaps it might have been illuminating to hear the plainchant unadorned before the piece started?
After a dramatic start, the music remained highly characterful with some magical moments. The various movements caputured a series of moods, there was quite a romantic sensibility to it but toughness as well. There was also some terrific playing from Hammond, who captured the piece brilliantly and dazzled with the more bravura passages.
Endless Song (1999) by the festival's artistic director, John Metcalf, was a flowing and elegantly lyrical piece. The basic melodic idea was quite romantic in feel, and Metcalf proceeded to vary it endlessly, keeping a feeling of constant flowing onward. Endlessly fascinating though the piece was, Metcalf wisely avoided the big gesture and kept it to a refined sensibility.
Adam Gorb is the Head of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music. Hammond premiered his Velocity last week, so that we heard the work's second performance. The work started as an interrupted toccata, with Hammond contributing some brilliant, crisp playing. As the work continued, and the pulse got even faster, the toccata ceased to be interrupted, and Hammond brought out quite a hard edge to the music, and she certainly dazzled with the sheer virtuosity of her playing.
Tarik O'Regan is one of the festival's featured composers this year. His Lines of Desire (2005) was a short, quite romantic piece which let the music flow where it wished to, with O'Regan bringing a naturally contemplative feel to the gradually evolving melodic ideas.
O'Regan's Three Piano Miniatures (1999) could hardly be different as each movement arose from the strict manipulation of the same tone-row. The results were surprisingly characterful and dramatic. Whilst not strictly melodic, the pieces were highly involving in terms of content and form.
In 2012 the Two Rivers Festival commissioned a group of piano pieces to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy. Each of the five composers wrote a short piano piece which had a link to Debussy's music. Hammond played three of these Aquarelles (2012), L'extase de jets d'eau by Peter Fribbins, Narcissus by Alan Mills and Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep by Robin Walker. L'extase de jets d'eau had a busy, flowing yet transparent texture which rippled and flowed, as if we were hearing the music refracted through flowing water. Hidden deep in the texture was Debussy's song Clair de Lune. Narcissus evoked Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau and invoked the story of Narcissus. A calm, gently rippling texture was placed agains slower moving phrases above and below, as if we were seeing Narcissus and his reflection in the water. Finally Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep evoked La Mer but here depicting the North Sea. Starting with a dark rocking figure deep in the piano, the consistently moving, dark texture had distinct hints of Debussy with in. You sensed the sea growing as the music moved up the piano, flowing and dramatic until finally it all subsided.
Hammond's programme was an imaginative collection of shorter contemporary pieces for piano, each one played with character, style and not a little bravura, her stylish playing matched by a very stylish dress. There was a good audience who were certainly knowledgeable and appreciative.
'But then the mood turned noticeably darker and more chilling with two of O'Regan's piano miniatures, played by the excellent Clare Hammond. The pieces were short, sharp and not a little disturbing, played with the power and panache that has earned Hammond a deservedly high reputation. She was equally commanding in Robin Walker's 'Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep', from Aquarelles. Sarah Dacey, a member of the critically-acclaimed vocal ensemble Juice, joined Hammond to sing O'Regan's 'My House, I Say' and a highly amusing and entertaining piece called 'Worry / Don't Worry'.
'One member of the audience was so taken with the dexterity displayed by Clare Hammond in the concert she gave for the Rochdale Music Society on Saturday, 22 February, that he went up to her at the end and asked her to show him her hands to prove that she had only ten fingers! Such was the technical brilliance of her performance, which had held the audience enthralled all evening.
Clare has made a special study of music written for the left hand only, and she demonstrated how effective such compositions can be by opening her programme with a finely judged performance of the arrangement for left hand only of a Chaconne in D minor by Bach made by Brahms.
The first of the works for two hands was a sequence of three of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, to which she brought delicate touches of feeling matching the composer’s charm and restrained passion and making the instrument sing.
The second was the early A major Sonata by Schubert, which she played with engaging lyrical warmth as befits music which, although it has moments of passion, is predominantly of a even tempered rather than argumentative kind.
After the interval came Mozart’s Variations on a Minuet by C. Fischer. Clare took up the composer’s invitation to join him in a journey of discovery, and made the members of the audience feel that they too were being privileged to experience the various delights uncovered as each of the twelve variations was unfolded.
The concert then took a leap into what might well have been regarded as the distant future in Mozart’s or even Mendelssohn’s time with the pieces called ‘Gnossiennes’ by the eccentric French composer, Eric Satie. Keeping the listener’s attention for the whole of this set of six pieces, played one after the other, is no mean feat for the performer, since they are all very slow and very similar both melodically and harmonically. That Clare managed to do this to the obvious delight of the audience was a tribute to her artistic sense of the spaced out time and motion underpinning Satie’s experimental technique.
Clare then worked her magic on Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne Op.9, two of the most romantic and endearing left hand only pieces in the repertory: intimate and restrained passion in the Prelude, arching melody and delicate Chopinesque brilliance in the Nocturne.
The concert ended with a masterful interpretation of Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas. These three dances challenge the pianist to display both technical and expressive virtuosity, which Clare did to the full; bringing the programme to a breath-taking and satisfying conclusion.
That was not quite the end of the evening’s music making. Following the encouragement given to her by the audience’s enthusiastic applause, Clare added to the pleasure of the occasion by playing a short, nostalgic piece by a young, local composer, Michael Betteridge, who happened to be present in the audience. Quite an added bonus.'
'Now that we are (at least) less diffident about our own music, English programmes are becoming increasingly popular. The Goldfield [Ensemble], barely three years old as a group but of slightly riper years as individuals, are already specialists in this area. They appeared on Wednesday as a piano quintet.
To the advertised Ireland, Bridge and Elgar, they added a zesty string trio by William Alwyn, written in 1959. Its four movements are uneven, but the central two benefitted from the Goldfield's rhythmic vitality and precise chording respectively. Elsewhere Alwyn's deliberate severity was never less than absorbing: his day will come.
Bridge's Piano Quintet, completed in 1912, stands fascinatingly with one foot in its own century and one in the 19th. The Goldfield brought warmth and passion, not just to its skittish central scherzo, but to its three adagios, and engineered a smooth accumulation of tension in the finale.
The whimsical changes in Ireland's Second Piano Trio reflect its origins in the First World War. Its brooding opening bars colour the whole piece. Such was the Goldfield's conviction that it emerged as a coherent set of variations. In contrast, Elgar's Piano Quintet is altogether sunnier, dating from the immediate post-First World War years. Here the group was especially alive to the spirit of dance. Clare Hammond worked wonders of restraint in the elaborate piano role. The Adagio might have been less leisurely, but its ending was properly sinister. The Goldfield is a group to watch.'
On 11&12 November the Faculty of Music marked the sixtieth birthday of Robert Saxton, since 1999 Professor of Composition and Tutorial Fellow of Worcester. A prolific composer of works written for many well-known ensembles, his song-cycle Time and the Seasons was commissioned by Oxford-Lieder and received its first performance to great acclaim at the recent Lieder Festival. The event comprised two concerts, ‘in conversation’ and a research colloquium. The Monday concert of Saxton’s music was given by Ensemble Isis, the other a piano recital by brilliant young pianist Clare Hammond, rapidly making her name as a virtuoso player.
The piano recital opened with Saxton’s latest composition, Hortus Musicae, com pleted this year, receiving its first performance on 24 June at the London Festival played by the same pianist. It is a large work in five movements representing various metaphysical aspects of ‘the garden’ – a sort of Anglicised Messiaen. Like that composer, the work makes tremendous demands on the performer. For me it was a complete revelation both of composer and of performer. The form is a sequence of short, impulsive detached notes interwoven with complex passages representing the mood of each movement. Hammond played faultlessly with the utmost clarity of execution – a breath-taking performance. She brought the same qualities to the rest of her programme – 21 year old Benjamin Britten’s Holiday Diary (Britten’s influence as an early mentor of Saxton is apparent), then Saxton’s Chacony for left hand, leading directly into Brahms’ transcription for piano left-hand of the Bach D minor Chaconne. The last, an interesting exercise, does not stand comparison in incisiveness with Busoni’s two handed version. At least the page turning was easier for a two-handed pianist.
We look forward both to hearing more of Saxton’s music and to Hammond’s next visit to Oxford to hear her in a more varied repertoire.
'In mid-afternoon the deliciously intelligent pianist Clare Hammond started with a couple of Preludes and fugues by Shostakovich then followed it by Aquarelles in honour of Debussy by five different composers. With the exception of David Matthews (70 this year) none – although not young - were household names, even in the rarified circles of new music: James Francis Brown, Peter Fribbens, Alan Mills and Robin Walker. This little set of tributes to the relationship between Debussy’s music and water, however, was remarkably coherent in style and high quality. In many ways it was a throwback to the composite scores of the 17th century or the chamber music Fridays of Russian composers in 1890s St Petersburg. Next came a commission shared with the Royal Philharmonic Society (who have pedigree because they also commissioned Beethoven’s 9th Symphony) – a piece called Pearl by the definitely young Robert Peate and, to finish, Schubert’s D664 Piano Sonata.
Clare Hammond’s brain as well as finger power was shown on the Saturday night too in Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet. It is such an immense work in every sense and so often succumbs to a performer's tendency to thrash their way through – what I’d describe as the Moscow banging school of playing. Here, though, Clare and the Badke Quartet showed the delicacy as well as the power that Shostakovich needs.'
'In a later recital, Clare Hammond offered a piano odyssey, with pieces inspired by ancient Greece. Hammond's sensibilities were already apparent in Szymanowski's Métopes, Op. 29 and Satie's three Gnossiennes, but it was in the premiere of Kenneth Hesketh's Horae that she showed serious mettle. In Greek mythology there was a goddess for each hour, and this sequence of 12 pieces, a modern book of hours, builds to a very substantial 37 minutes. Hammond displayed its scintillating passagework and poetic calm with great flair.'
'And so to Clare Hammond's solo piano works. Acclaimed for her musical intelligence, formidable technique and virtuoso flair, Hammond offered three contrasting works which amply demonstrated her ability to move seamlessly from the melodic gems inherent in Schubert’s writing, through Bach’s urbanity, to the raw energy and sensuousness of Ginastera. Bach’s Italian Concerto was replete with crisp articulation, tasteful pedaling and, in the opening movement, sensitive attention to the different textures of orchestral and solo keyboard writing. The middle movement felt improvisatory at times (despite Bach’s “written out” ornaments), an expressive treble line floating over the bass. The final movement was open-hearted, its bright theme streaming forth with clarity and wit.
The three Danzas Argentinas by Alberto Ginastera demonstrate the composer’s strong interest in the folk music of his country with their vernacular scales, strummed textures, and lively dance rhythms. The middle of the triptych, “Dance of the Beautiful Maiden”, was sensuous and sultry, while the first and the last were colourful and earthy, Hammond adeptly harnessing the full dynamic range of the Wigmore Steinway to striking effect, particularly in the final fff glissando of the “Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy”, bringing the concert to a close with masterly panache.
But for me, it was Schubert’s Sonata in A, D.664 (1819), popularly known as the “little” A major Sonata (to differentiate it from his more substantial work from 1828 in the same key) that really stole the show. The work is genial and expressive, its serenely expansive opening melody belying the more assertive and melancholy passages which follow. A tender middle movement is built around a single theme, while the finale has the lilt of the Ländler, with nods to Beeethoven in its textures, and a wistful mood. Clare brought to the work an intense intimacy, through highly expressive and beautifully judged cantabile playing, delicacy of touch, and sympathetic attention to the score, thereby highlighting all the subtle shifts and colours in Schubert’s writing, and reminding us, above, all, that Schubert was a composer of songs.'
'Clare Hammond's lunchtime piano recital began with one famous baroque work - JS Bach's Italian Concerto - and ended with Maurice Ravel's tribute to another great Baroque composer - Le Tombeau de Couperin. In between she played an eclectic selection of relatively modern pieces.
Clare Hammond introduced each piece and described Bach's Italian Concerto as light and joyful, which applies equally to her playing of it. In her hands this harpsichord music sounds as if it might indeed have been written for the piano. Ed Hughes's Orchid No. 5 received its world premiere. Its melody had echoes of plainsong and its beautiful style is reminiscent of Debussy, though with more muscular rhythms.
Alberto Ginastera wrote his Danzas Argentinas to celebrate the gaucho or cowboy as the epitome of Argentina. Clare played three of these evocative Dances - the Old Herdsman, the Beautiful Maiden and the Arrogant Cowboy, which calls for great virtuosity and ends with a spectacular up and down glissando that Clare brought off in brilliant but unfussy style. Kenneth Hesketh's Horae were written for Clare, who performed the last three of the twelve. Finally Clare played Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin with perfectly poised and poetic phrasing yet infused with a warm vitality; the audience's fulsome appreciation was rewarded with an encore - an Air by Handel - to end this memorable recital.'
'Another winner who chose new music was Clare Hammond. Kenneth Hesketh's Horae (pro clara) is named for the twelve goddesses of Greek mythology who personified the hours between sunrise and sunset. Of the sequence of pieces written - as the title suggests - especially for her, Hammond played 'Auge' (daybreak) and 'Anatolia' (dawn). She found a crystalline beauty in the figurations of the former and brought out the latter's contrasts of colouring and texture with much flair. In the Scriabin, her phrasing of the wave-upon-wave of invention had the requisite sweep, and she captured too the frenetic, breathless, quality that marking of marking 'affanato' demands.'
'Some pianists hammer the instrument into submission, some caress it. Clare Hammond is firmly in the latter category, as her inaugural recital as this year's artist-in-residence in the School of Creative Arts at Queen's University clearly demonstrates. Beethoven's 'Appassionata Sonata' - a piece frequently rendered virtually unlistenable by the clattering pyrotechnics it can unleash in players - benefits from Hammond's unusually judicious approach. There's no dashing towards the next climactic eruption in her interpretation, no overloading with angst, no drenching of the music in spurious, excessive emotions. Hammond focuses instead on the broader contours of the musical argument, unravelling the sonata structure of the opening movement with uncommon clarity.
Beethoven's explosions of temperament, when they come, are all the more startling as a consequence. Hammond undoubtedly has the physical power to encompass fully the swirling technical difficulties of the tempestuous finale, but is again careful not to rush the music into fevered incoherency. In her judicious balancing of the classical and romantic elements in the sonata, and her finely honed musicality of approach, Hammond recalls both Myra Hess and Annie Fischer, great Beethoven pianists of bygone generations.
Scriabin's Sonata No. 5 in F sharp poses interpretative conundrums not dissimilar to the 'Appassionata', its sudden lurches between what Hammond terms 'phrases of inexpressively sensuous languor and of frenetic activity' making it difficult to hold the single movement together as a coherent listening experience. Hammond managed this balancing out of contending sensibilities with an artless ease, gliding unobtrusively from interludes of heady, perfumed rhapsody to others of cascading hyper-intensity. So often in Scriabin there's an unwholesome whiff of hothouse decadence: Hammond purifies the air breathed by the music, distilling moments of exquisite, lingering poetry for the listener'.
Earlier, in a nod towards her new Queen's connections, Hammond includes 'Piani, Latebre', a work by Piers Hellawell, Professor of Composition at the university. It's an immediately appealing composition, Hammond's elegant dispatch of the twinkling note-clusters in the 'Impromptu' section underlining how clean her attack is on the keys, how carefully calibrated the decay of sound in her scrupulously voiced chordings.
There's also a world premiere, a brace of short works by Hillsborough composer and conductor Hamilton Harty, discovered recently among the papers of a woman Harty apparently fell in love with in 1934, during a voyage to Australia. The first, 'Portrait', distantly echoes the Elgar of 'Chanson de Matin', while the longer 'Spring Fantasy' has a Schumann-like turn of phrase and sentiment, with twirls of Chopin filigree in the piano writing. Hammond's accounts of both pieces are charming.
Shorter works by Szymanowski and Messiaen fill out the programme, which opens with a ruminative account of Handel's 'Suite No. 6 in F sharp minor'. It's a work originally written for harpsichord, and Hammond doesn't quite manage, on a modern Steinway, to give the trills and decorations of the opening 'Prélude' the easy fluency of her playing later in the evening. The concluding 'Gigue', though, is full of élan and elasticity.
The abiding impression left by Hammond in this recital is that she's far from bring a self-advertisingly virtuosic player, a strutter of stages on the international piano circuit. Her playing is of an altogether more thoughtful and discerning quality, focused constantly on the music itself, searching out its deeper significances and inner verities.
Perhaps that's why the Harty Room is loath to let her go on this occasion - she plays two encores (a Handel 'Air' and Scriabin's 'Étude in C sharp minor'), but the audience seems ready to continue listening. They get another chance when Hammond returns to Queen's in February 2013 for more workshops in performance and composition, and a lunchtime recital on February 21. Piano-lovers who can get there on the day should certainly be attending.'
'She played three miniatures by Kenneth Hesketh from his 12-piece cycle Horae (pro clara), intense sometimes shadowy music that explores emotional and colouristic possibilities. This is Hammond's music, written for her, the ordering of pieces her choice; this particular triptych (I-III-II) made one keen to hear the cycle complete… [In Beethoven's 'Appassionata' Sonata] she produced a coda that was electrifying and unflinching, the increase of speed into it perfectly calibrated.'
'In Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, the pianist was likewise in full expressive command of her fingers, conveying the swirling shimmer and sweet melancholy of a work that veers between elegance and emotion. Two pieces of Satie and two of Albeniz were exquisitely played.'
'Still, there are occasions when artist and programme really gel. One was Clare Hammond's recital, which married Giles Swayne's 2008 Three Bagatelles for solo piano with two of Julian Anderson's Piano Etudes, and also featured a little-known study by Stephen Oliver. Hammond, who studies at the Guildhall, played from memory with crisp precision and unflashy intelligence. The second of the Swayne pieces requires the softest, most even touch for its delicately balanced tonality to stabilise, just as the brittle humour of the third could easily snap under less clever fingers. Similarly, Anderson's studies require minute command, not just over each note's attack, but also of each release. Most impressive, though, was her natural sense of pacing, allowing the hollowed-out climax of Pour les Arpèges Composées to gather like a wisp of smoke in sunlight before dissipating in a passing breeze.'
'The pianist Clare Hammond raised a cheer with her performance of Barber's Piano Sonata, and rightly so, as she projected its heroic rhetoric with amazing power and panache.'
'A fiery account of the Piano Sonata from Clare Hammond ended the first half, building on her performance of the same work at the Purcell Room in January during the PLG's week of new music and young performers. Once again she demonstrated a formidable technical command, as well as a strong affinity with the composer's quickly changing moods. A stern-faced first movement was darkly coloured, the mood lifting for a vivacious scherzo. Hammond performed the movements with as little break as possible, moving from the cold Passacaglia to the strident fugal subject of the finale with apparent ease. Her virtuosity was stunning at times, all the more so for being so dedicated to the composer's intentions.'
'A high-octane account of Samuel Barber's Piano Sonata (1949) concluded the recital... with formidable articulation of the scherzo's heady passagework and a finale whose precipitous drive through to a hair-raising close fairly brought the house down.'
'Rhapsody in Blue was charged with restless energy, offset by moments of lyrical intensity. Piano soloist Clare Hammond's playing was exquisitely supple and full of expression'
'So strongly does Clare Hammond identify herself with her composers that the music seemed to come from within her, rather than from the piano. This performer unites unflawed elegance with the ability to gauge every work's emotional measure. She opened with a selection of Schubert Impromptus, miniatures full of charm, but not all sweetness and light. Writing a century later, Olivier Messiaen liberally supplied those qualities in La Colombe (The Dove). This was effectively contrasted with Le Nombre Léger (Light Number) and a dramatically conceived Un Reflet dans le Vent (Reflection in the Wind). Alexander Scriabin's Sonate-Fantasie in G sharp minor lifted the poetry of a Chopin into mystical realms - realms which were charted with energetic conviction. The second half of the recital showed imaginative powers of a similar order. After an alfresco Bartok suite, Brahms' Two Rhapsodies (Opus 79) returned us to the Romantic mainstream. Vallée d'Obermann, from the "Swiss" volume of Liszt's Years of Pilgrimage, yielded an epic climax. The pianist's encore underlined the sheer agility of her mind and fingers.'
'And then came Clare Hammond. Her performance of Mozart's E flat piano quartet K493 was exemplary. She was absolutely confident from the very first, decisive notes of the Allegro, which she projected boldly, sacrificing none of its youthful joyfulness. There was lovely shaping of phrases... [and] in the slow movement, Miss Hammond's playing was expressive but always with a strong sense of direction. Here... there were some winning question and answer passages between soloist and strings and a genuine intensity developed towards the end of the movement which came all too soon. The concerto-like finale was pure delight. The pianist was in full command, her playing by turns lyrically elegant and masterfully assured. Clare Hammond has a bright future. My only regret was that we couldn't have Mozart's other piano quartet after the interval.'
'Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody can suffer from over-exposure so there has to be something special about its performance to set the pulse racing. Luckily Clare Hammond had just the right combination of pianistic poetry and brilliance to make this a Rhapsody to remember. There was a jazzy, improvisatory feel about so much of it.'