Wednesday 4 February 2015

Remarkable playing from pianist Clare Hammond in a first rate, imaginative recital of works by Lyapunov, Unsuk Chin, Szymanowski and Nicholai Kapustin on BIS

Pianist Clare Hammond obtained a double first in music at Cambridge University before undertaking postgraduate study with Ronan O’Hora at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and with Professor Rhian Samuel at the City University London. In 2014 she was paired with French pianist Anne Queffélec on the Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme run by the Royal Philharmonic Society.

She has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now and CD Review programmes and, in January, makes her fourth appearance on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. In 2012 her live recital broadcast of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin from the Wigmore Hall was chosen as one of BBC Radio 3’s highlights of the month while in 2014 she recorded music by Sibelius and Rangström as part of a BBC Symphony Orchestra studio concert for BBC Radio 3’s Afternoon on 3.

Hammond’s involvement in centenary celebrations for composer Andrzej Panufnik in 2014 saw the release of her acclaimed first disc for BIS Records entitled Reflections.

Now from BIS Records comes Clare Hammond’s recital entitled Etude featuring works by Sergei Lyapunov, Unsuk Chin, Karol Szymanowski and Nicholai Kapustin.

BIS - 2004

Clare Hammond opens her recital with three of Sergei Lyapunov’s (1859-1924) 12 Études d'exécution transcendante, Op. 11. With No. 4. Térek Allegro impetuoso (1900) Clare Hammond immediately holds the attention as she builds the music from the depths, revealing a clarity despite Lyapunov’s dense textures. When the little, very Russian theme emerges each time, it is a lovely moment. She provides some especially fine playing as the étude develops. She brings expansive, languid, beautifully limpid delicate phrases and a fine touch to No. 5. Nuit d’été Lento ma non Troppo (1900) in a lovely performance, finely paced, allowing the music to rise naturally before a beautifully realised coda. Rippling volatility arrives in No. 6. Tempête Allegro agitato molto (1897) with lovely phrasing that enhances this pianist’s fine sense of individual line with a fine strength in the more dynamic passages.

Next Hammond gives us South Korean composer, Unsuk Chin’s (b.1961)  Piano Études (1995-2003). Piano Étude No. 1, ‘In C’ reveals a composer who has taken the influences of modernist composers such as Ligeti with whom she studied, and formed a style that brings spectacularly fine structures, at times dissonantly melodic, yet always surprising to the ear. Messiaen also loosely comes to mind, yet this is wholly engaging, individual music brilliantly played.

Piano Étude No. 2, ‘Sequenzen’ rises up from the lower keyboard, gaining in tempo and dynamics until breaking out into an energetic, rhythmically complex passage. There is a more thoughtful passage before the energy returns with playing that is, by any standards, phenomenally good.

Piano Étude No. 3, ‘Scherzo ad libitum’ runs around in little phrases that at first appear fragmented but soon the ear catches a cohesion and structure. The music is playful in nature, something which this pianist picks up on, building to some terrific overlaying of lines before gently skipping to a conclusion.

Intricate little scales and motifs rush around in the Piano Étude No. 4, ‘Scalen’ with Hammond bringing an intoxicatingly fine, delicate touch to a brilliantly executed coda. With the Piano Étude No. 5, ‘Toccata’ little bouncing phrases slowly overlay each other leading the toccata forward before rising to a very fine coda. A terrific study, brilliantly played.

A certain fragmentation of motifs opens the Piano Étude No. 6, ‘Grains’, however, Chin cleverly develops the motifs, almost imperceptibly. Hammond’s fine ability to hold an overall structure allows this music to reveal the subtle forward movement, the little surges that overall give a propulsion as well as an arch like structure as it falls to the coda.

For those that listen with an open ear this is eminently approachable music. It is good that BIS have taken care over the times between tracks so that the right amount of silence is allowed.

Karol Szymanowski’s (1882-1937) 12 Studies, Op. 33 (1916) follow with No. 1. Presto moving off quickly with a subtle melody emerging out of the textures and some very fine terrific playing indeed. The exotic, scented harmonies of No. 2. Andantino soave are beautifully realised with beautifully coloured textures.

The brief No. 3. Vivace assai quickly builds to a fine coda before No. 4. Presto where Hammond’s fine delicacy is apparent, beautifully phrased, subtly coloured. There is an exquisitely wrought No. 5. Andante espressivo, full of nostalgia with rich broad phrases and a direct, forthright No. 6. Vivace.

No. 7. Allegro molto, with its little leaps and rhythmic changes is surprisingly modern in feel, relating somewhat to Unsuk Chin’s creations. A languid No.8 Lento assai mesto follows, atmospheric and thoughtful with Hammond bringing a lovely gentle, rhythmic lift to the music. No. 9. Animato brings more little rhythmic motifs before a rather brooding passage, Hammond revealing the fleeting character of the piece.

The turbulent No. 10. Presto has a subtle rubato and fine forward momentum before No. 11. Andante soave where again Szymanowski’s languid harmonies are finely brought out, the loose structure held perfectly. Finally No. 12. Presto, densely textured as the presto moves quickly forward, with this pianist maintaining a very fine clarity, subtly rising in stages to a fine coda.

The Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin (b.1937)  brings jazz influences to his Five Études in different intervals, Op.68 (1992). No. 1. Allegro: Étude in minor seconds is terrific with a rollicking theme that has jazz, even rag time elements, brilliantly played and terrific fun.  

No. 2. Allegro: Étude in fourths and fifths retains a similar feel but with a more serious vein. Clare Hammond holds the structure together brilliantly as the music varies in rhythm and tempi with overlaid musical lines. No. 3. Animato: Étude in thirds and sixths is another terrific piece with difficult rhythms and a lovely broad theme that momentarily appears out of the texture, not to mention a slight Latin feel.

Some terrific dissonances arrive with No. 4. Vivace: Étude in major seconds as the music hurtles ahead with sudden rhythm and tempo changes, Hammond picking up on the subtle rhythms brilliantly before leading to a more jazzy feel towards the end.

No. 5. Animato: Étude in octaves has a broader, freer feel with many different rhythms and flourishes wonderfully realised by Hammond who gives a phenomenally fine performance, bringing a fine breadth, flow and panache as the music leads to its almost Gershwinesque coda.

This is a first rate imaginative recital with some remarkable playing from Clare Hammond. She is very well recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England.

There are excellent booklet notes by the pianist. 

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