Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Clare Hammond gives stunning performances of piano works by Kenneth Hesketh that bring out all the poetry, delicacy, power, fluency, rhythmic buoyancy and sheer virtuosity they contain, on a new release from BIS

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.

From 2003 to 2005 he was New Music Fellow at Kettle's Yard and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge where he curated a series of new music chamber concerts. The Fondation André Chevillion-Yvonne Bonnaud prize was awarded to Hesketh at the 2004 Concours International de Piano d'Orléans after a performance of his Three Japanese Miniatures by pianist Daniel Becker. In 2007, Hesketh took up the position of Composer in the House with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for two years.

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 commissions from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. 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.

Pianist, Clare Hammond , who has just won the RPS Young Artist Award, which celebrates outstanding achievement in 2015, has recorded a number of Kenneth Hesketh’s piano works for a new disc just released by BIS Records

BIS 2193

The title of Through Magic Casements (2008) refers to Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. Indeed it opens with ripples and chirrups, iridescent phrases seen through dissonance harmonies, falling and building through some wonderful passages occasionally reminiscent of Scriabin in their harmonies and development. Later staccato phrases bring a new development of the theme before easing to allow the rippling phrases to be heard, soon finding a quiet, slowly picked out passage and a final little chirrup in the hushed coda.

The major work on this disc, Horae (Pro Clara) (Breviary for Clare) (2011/12), was written for Clare Hammond and premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013. It is a series of twelve miniatures that form a breviary or book of hours. None of the movements are titled but do have specific performance directions. The first movement is marked Transparente (diaphanous) and has a gentle opening to which Clare Hammond brings a terrific clarity and delicacy. The theme is built through some wonderfully constructed passages, finding quite lovely harmonies, textures and colours.

Velocissima assai (as fleet as the tiniest humming bird) achieves a similar transparency of sound, with a jewel like brilliance and clarity. As it develops with hints of Messiaen, this pianist provides the most fluent and finely coloured phrases. Hesketh develops the most exquisite moments from the simplest of ideas in Semplice. Hammond’s phrasing is wonderful, creating just the right feel, building in strength before finding a hushed coda.

Agilmente (maniaco ed instabile - with never-ceasing energy) bursts forth in a torrent of rippling phrases, again with a terrific brilliance and clarity, this pianist revealing a fine structure as the music develops through rhythmically varying passages of great forward thrust. Diretto, ancora fluido (like the splash and suspension of water droplets) opens with sudden phrases underpinned by a low chord before the music ripples gently ahead. There are more sudden dynamic outbursts with Hammond providing a terrific fluidity and power in this wonderfully descriptive music.

Nervoso, ma dolce (flessibile) has a gentle opening with some lovely restrained harmonies. The constant yet subtly shifting tempi perfectly caught here by this pianist. This is music of the utmost delicacy and sensibility. Capriccioso brings firm chords in the lower register overlaid by bright phrases that soon vary in tempo and rhythm before a quieter trickling passage that leads to the coda. Ritmico (giusto) (like intertwining chime clocks) / Flessibile gently meanders forward with rippling phrases, bringing a fine delicacy, subtly developing and gaining in strength. Clare Hammond sets out wonderfully the overlaid musical ideas with subtle textures from the strings of the piano.  

Capriccioso (impishly sardonic) leaps in rhythmically and playfully, jumping around full of unexpected intervals, rhythms and tempi. Scorrevole (ma meccanico) (like an ‘evening full of the linnet's wings’) rippling phrases flow forward, subtly shifting in harmonies that bring a lightness and freedom. Indolente (...lapping, with low sounds) opens slowly with lovely little chords that slowly increase in weight, rising and retreating with moments of delicate fluidity. The music develops more intensity, yet falls away to a quiet coda.

A motif very slowly develops in the opening of Molto misterioso, desolate (‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’). There are sudden little rhythmic skips before finding a more powerful emotion. The music returns to a quieter, gentle and thoughtful passage creating a withdrawn feeling. Hammond explores all the little delicate details before suddenly taking off in a faster passage that has sudden changes of tempi and dynamics before easing back to allow for a long dying phrase to fade.

A formidable achievement by Clare Hammond in music that has by turns delicacy, brilliance, power and freedom.

Notte Oscura (2002) was written as a piano transcription of the first interlude of Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, with some additional material form the first scene of Act 1. Here the composer takes Gogol’s description of St. Petersburg’s most powerful foe – the Northern cold. Slow, low chords open, broadening into lighter phrases with little trills in the right hand as the music slowly develops. Hesketh brings a withdrawn chill to this music that develops more florid moments through a more flowing passage. Hammond shows brilliant fluency and sense of structure, building through some terrific passages of falling and rising phrases, always with a sense of underlying tension before finding a calmer coda.

Three Japanese Miniatures (2002) are fragments and paraphrases on material from a work by Hesketh for chamber orchestra, itself from a puppet ballet based on Japanese folk tales. Temple Music opens with broad chords before leaping into crashing chords and fast moving phrases. There is nothing pastiche here; Hesketh brings his own individual descriptive style. There are sudden little trills and a series of repeated chords that become increasingly strong before finding a quieter use of the opening chords before a delicate, unresolved end. Ripping chords open The Cradle Rocks gently and quietly, this pianist finding some lovely gentle, delicate phrases. Again it is her sensitivity to the music’s delicate phrases and harmonies that is impressive. The music later finds a slightly more flowing nature, still with hesitant phrases before building in strength only to find a gentle, delicate coda. Little Bumbuku opens with a sudden brittle, staccato idea, developed through some remarkable passages of ever changing ideas, this pianist bringing the most terrific phrasing dynamics before falling to a wonderfully conceived, quiet and gentle coda.

Clare Hammond gives stunning performances that bring out all the poetry, delicacy, power, fluency, rhythmic buoyancy and sheer virtuosity contained in these striking works. 

She receives a first rate SACD recording that provides both tremendous clarity and a fine piano tone and there are excellent booklet notes from the pianist. 

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