The recent release of this new album of music by composer Sadie Harrison is receiving a wonderful reception from performers, composers, listeners, and quite deservedly too, in my opinion. We have a collection of works for solo piano, and such a variety it is, it’s like a box of delights, wrapped up in a musical package! Bringing together such a group of excellent pianists, Ian Pace, Philippa Harrison, Duncan Honeybourne and Ren’ee Reznek into such a musical adventure, whilst stirring a superb creative mixture of notes, timbre, rhythms, delicate and powerful structures, in equal measure, we were guaranteed an enlightening experience, which is exactly what we have here.
Very difficult to choose any particular favourite, so I wont, well almost. Also, I won’t say too much about the programme notes, as I always feel the listener/purchaser, should read them for themselves, that way getting a little closer to the composers thoughts – it certainly doesn’t need my ramblings getting in the way, and the booklet has more than enough information, that I don’t intend to repeat it. Sadie Harrison is a terrific and inspired composer of music for the 21st century, and if you don’t know her musical voice, well, this CD is certainly a good introduction. All the works included in this recording were written between 2011 – 2017.
Here nearly 70 minutes of contemporary music for piano, from one of our most creative composers. Influenced by everything from art, writing, as well as music, here is a composer completely in control of where she has been and where she’s going, taking us all along for the ride. Anyone worried that a collection of contemporary solo piano music might be a little ’too much’ for them, and their delicate musical constitution, trust me, the approach to the actual choosing of the programme of works extremely well, in a few ways. Firstly, the moving from one work to another in the running order of the album, and probably took a bit of thought, planning and discussion – this is needed, so we have the auditory senses, stimulated to such an extent, that the music glides smoothly from one piece, to another.
This is very interesting, as each work is very distinct from the preceding, to the following one – Harrison has such a voice though, that it all sounds such an obvious, and natural progression, not always the case with other composer collections. Secondly, the music itself, with delicate beauty, sometimes overwhelmingly powerful, almost and everything in between, shows such a contrast of style within one composers work as to not only stimulate but, well, certainly for me, to hear the music again, well after the disc stops spinning – instead the music spins an emotional and intellectual web inside the listener as to take us on the composers intended journey.
Thirdly, the individual performances of each musician, is definitely second to none, which each pianist, so deeply enveloped amongst this music, that indeed, it almost seems at times that the musicians were there at the compositional birth of their individual pieces, so absorbed are their interpretations. The title track ‘ Return of the Nightingales’ begins with one of natures most beautiful creations, birdsong.
Then joining this hypnotic soundscape the piano enters, sometimes, it seems, in imitation, then building in complexity, and within a few moments the music takes us on a virtuosic journey, before a return to our birds. Any difficult technique here, is easily cast aside, as always, by Ian Pace so as to focus totally on the music. Another highlight for me is ’Shadows: Six Portraits of William Baines’ performed by Duncan Honeybourne.
Here we have the composer reflecting on diary entries of composer William Baines, sometimes using small fragments from Baines piano works. Harrison achieves so much, with so little, never a note out of place, or could ever be removed without the whole composition imploding – perfection. Honeybourne too, he knows both the composer and music so well, that at times, we feel as though we are actually in the head of the composer as she creates the work – the range of tone and dynamic control of each musical idea, love it! Also, the titles of each piece are really great, for example: ‘Horbury Co-op Cinema’ fabulous!! ‘ Par-feshani-ye’: Six Pieces after Bidel’ take their inspiration from a couplet by the Sufi poet Bidel.
The six brief movements, wonderfully performed by Ren’ee Reznek, provides an auditory sensation, as we absorb both the imagery of the words and music, in equal measure. On a personal level, i actually enjoyed reading the words, whilst listening to each short piece in turn, as the score opened up its secrets. ‘Four JazzPortraits’ are a set of miniatures for piano, which were inspired by the individual pianist style of Fats Waller, Bill Evans, Theolonius Monk and Albert Ammons, they are totally inspired, and they capture the feel and style of each. To be honest, I just sat back and enjoyed this group of pieces, performed here by Philippa Harrison, for a personal indulgence. May I add too, they are musically exquisite and will certainly be on radio show playlist for quite a while – as will the the other tracks too, of course! Adding into this mix, some greatly artwork, very informative booklet, with programme notes, individual biographies of both composer and the performers, this is the total package, and one all record producers/companies should take note of!
Thanks to Prima Facie Records and everyone involved in the production of this tremendous addition to contemporary piano music recordings!! Available from Prima Facie Records.