Reviews for Kenneth Hesketh - Horae (pro clara)


"a star interpreter of contemporary music" — Fiona Maddocks

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.


"a winning combination of technical subtlety and expressive spontaneity" — Arnold Whittall

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.

International Piano

"A significant release" — CC

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.

Klassik Heute

"flawless transparency and technique" — Dr. Hartmut Lück

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.

Classical Source

"played with such dedication by Clare Hammond" — Colin Anderson

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.

Classical Ear

"the perfect interpreter" — Michael Quinn

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.

Le Disquaire

"magnifiquement interprétées par Clare Hammond"

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.


"lorsqu'elle sort les griffes, Clare Hammond est impressionnante" — Pierre Rigaudière

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.

Quarterly Review

"one of the most thought-provoking productions of new music in recent years" — Stuart Millson

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…