REVIEW - Ghosts and Whispers

'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.'

Paul Conway for Musical Opinion