Sunday 9 October 2016

Prima Facie bring a most rewarding release of works by British composers Kenneth Hesketh and Richard Causton performed by the Continuum Ensemble with soprano Mary Bevan, violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and pianist Alexander Szram

A new release from Prima Facie Records features the Continuum Ensemble with conductor and pianist, Philip Headlam with soprano Mary Bevan , violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen  and pianist Aleksander Szram in works by British composers Kenneth Hesketh and Richard Causton entitled A Land So Luminous.


Kenneth Hesketh (b.1968) was born in Liverpool, England and began composing whilst a chorister at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, completing his first work for orchestra at the age of thirteen. He studied at the Royal College of Music, London with Edwin Roxburgh, Joseph Horovitz and Simon Bainbridge and attended Tanglewood in 1995 as the Leonard Bernstein Fellow where he studied with Henri Dutilleux. After completing a Master's degree in Composition at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, a series of awards followed; the Shakespeare Prize scholarship from the Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg, an award from the Liverpool Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the Constant and Kit Lambert Fellowship at the Royal College of Music.

Hesketh’s compositions range across opera, dance, orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal and solo as well as music for wind and brass bands. He has worked with leading ensembles and orchestras in Europe, the USA, and the Far East and has received many commissions.  He has worked with conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Vasilly Sinaisky, Vasily Petrenko, Susanna Malkki, Ludovic Morlot, Pascal Rophé and Oliver Knussen and soloists such as Nicholas Daniel, Sarah Leonard, Rodney Clarke, Christopher Redgate, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Clare Hammond.

Kenneth Hesketh is professor of composition and orchestration at the Royal College of Music, honorary professor at Liverpool University and active as a guest lecturer and visiting professor.

Richard Causton (b.1971) studied at the University of York, the Royal College of Music and the Scuola Civica in Milan. He has worked with ensembles such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken, London Sinfonietta, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Britten Sinfonia and the Nash Ensemble. In addition to composition, Causton writes and lectures on Italian contemporary music and regularly broadcasts for Italian radio (RAI Radio 3).

Recent works include Twenty-Seven Heavens for orchestra, commissioned as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and premièred at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw under the direction of Gianandrea Noseda, as well as solo pieces for pianist Piotr Anderszewski and cellist Anssi Karttunen. He is currently working on a large-scale orchestral work for the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Causton is currently Reader in Composition at the University of Cambridge.

Kenneth Hesketh’s A Land So Luminous (2003/09) for violin and piano opens this disc and takes its title from the 17th century philosopher-poet, Cyrano de Bergerac and his writings that conjure up imaginative worlds. A sudden shrill outburst from the violin of Tasmin Waley-Cohen appears over high staccato phrases from pianist Alexsander Szra. The music is subtly developed, the violin adding more texture as the piano expands the theme, creating a transparency and luminosity of texture. Soon the violin brings a repeated insistent idea over piano decorations before developing through some delicate light textured passages. These players find so many little details with their tremendously accomplished playing. The music later slows with the violin drawing long textures over a languid piano accompaniment. There are some beautifully delicate phrases with Waley-Cohen finding so many exquisite textures and colours through this extended quiet section. The music slowly increases in tempo to rush forward through a quicksilver passage with tremendous virtuosity from these artists. There are passages of shimmering light until a hushed coda where a high violin note is sounded over a deep piano chord.

The three movements that make up Cautionary Tales (2002) were arranged for violin, clarinet and piano from the larger piece for ensemble, Netsuke. A sudden outburst from the instruments brings a fast moving idea to open I. Der Struwwelpeter, with pinpoint precision from members of the Continuum Ensemble clarinetist Marie Lloyd, violinist Marcus Barcham-Stevens and pianist Douglas Finch in this brilliantly conceived piece full of sudden staccato phrases, the instruments weaving some terrific passages before a slower passage beautifully woven.   
With II. Le Petit Prince et la Rose the clarinet brings a little theme over the piano to which the violin joins. Here, there are echoes of Messiaen, Hesketh conjuring some atmospheric, quite beautiful ideas as he brings forth lovely sonorities and textures from the instruments. The music slowly rises in dynamics before some mesmerising harmonies take us to a hushed coda.

The clarinet sounds out shrilly over piano phrases to intruduce III. Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher before the trio continue to weave some quite amazing textures that move around wildly, always varying the tones and textures with some lovely ideas for clarinet and violin over a piano line.

IMMH (2012) for cello is a short imagined shamanic ritual dedicated to the memory of Michael Harrison, former director of Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge . Cellist, Joseph Spooner opens with some rich, deep cello chords followed by rhythmic taps on the body of his cello before moving ahead with a variety of sounds and textures, slowly developing some increasingly passionate bowed textures. Vocal effects combine with string textures to create some strange effects, always with a developing passion and some especially effective strummed passages. Some wonderful, delicately drawn high phrases appear before the coda.

This is a remarkably fine piece.

Philip Headlam conducts the Continuum Ensemble in Netsuke (2001 rev. 2004) described as a collection of short, colourful musical tableaux creating an aural picture book. Netsuke are finely detailed tiny sculpted toggles made of ivory horn or wood, formerly worn in Japan to suspend articles from the sash of a kimono.

The Continuum Ensemble sound out suddenly in the opening of I. Statue - Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher, before hurtling forward through some fine harmonies and textures, bringing a real transparency to this piece, showing some wonderful accuracy. Soon there is a slower passage where some lovely little phrases are heard before picking up the pace to weave a terrific tapestry of sound. Later they find some lovely woodwind moments before speeding through some fine bars only to arrive at a lovely little, quiet coda.

II. La Rose has a quiet opening as the ensemble slowly bring some lovely ideas, delicately phrased and full of atmosphere, slowly rising as the woodwind weave a terrific harmony and texture of sounds all underlined by a rippling piano line. The music quietens again to bring a hushed, quite exquisite coda.

Piano, percussion and bassoon combine to bring a lovely quality to the opening of III. Statue II - The Owl before rising through the ensemble with shimmering strings and some flute passages that dart around. The music moves through luminous textures creating another fine atmosphere before the bassoon brings a lovely theme around which various instruments of the ensemble sparkle and weave an increasingly excitable texture before a gentler coda.

Richard Causton’s Threnody (1991) for soprano, two clarinets and piano sets a poem by Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941). A clarinet slowly opens over which the second clarinet brings its own long held phrases.  Soon soprano, Mary Bevan, enters bringing her beautifully pure tone that blends wonderfully with the clarinets. They continue over a slow, languid piano line, this soprano bringing much feeling, conjuring a haunting atmosphere. These artists beautifully shape the music as clarinets and soprano blend and weave some lovely textures.

This is a really impressive work, brilliantly performed.

The Continuum Ensemble return for Causton’s Rituals of Hunting and Blooding (2000 rev. 2002). In two movements, the work enacts the drama between hunters and the hunted. Movement I brings some wild and frenzied phrases for the Continuum Ensemble over a variety of percussion. A clarinet brings a repeated idea before some fine, distinctive textures are developed by the ensemble. A trumpet takes the theme over drums as it pounds and dances forward creating a sense of ritual. The music develops through varying rhythms with a group of brass instruments taking the rhythmic theme to a sudden collapse on a drum stroke.

Movement II brings a plaintive, wistful theme for flute and brass over strings. A solo violin takes the theme alone, joined by other strings in this melancholy melody. It rises a little in dynamics but keeps its melancholy feel. As the music continues to rise, it moves through some lovely textures with the celeste appearing until a piano chord brings a subtle drama at the end.

There is a hidden melody in Non Mi Comporto Male (1993) for piano that is only revealed gradually. The piece develops out of two opening phrases through some expansive passages that bring a real freedom. It moves through jazz inspired ideas that surely give a hint as to the type of theme hidden. There are slower, quieter variations as well as a vibrant rhythmic passage before bringing together fragmented ideas to reveal the well-known tune by Fats Waller.

Sleep (2006) for flute was inspired by the first stanza of a poem from the Mythistorema cycle by the Greek poet George Seferis (1900-1971). Here flautist, Lisa Nelsen, brings a beautifully textured opening, her lovely tone finding so many fine moments with great agility and impulsive passion before the quiet coda.

There are some lovely phrases from Douglas Finch as Night Piece (2014) for piano opens. Causton brings a terrific atmosphere with this pianist finding many lovely moments. Here again Causton has disguised a well-known theme that tries to emerge over high tinkling piano phrases. One feels as though walking in a dream landscape and, even when Mozart’s theme emerges, the atmosphere is as though through a dream.

We must thank Prima Facie for this most rewarding and enjoyable release. The performances are first class and the recordings made at Blackheath Halls and RCM Studies, London UK are excellent. There are excellent notes together with the English text for Threnody.

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