Kenneth Hesketh - *Horae (pro clara)* in Gramophone

"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.