"this array of wizardry is not for the faint hearted" — Jessica Duchen
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.