Tuesday 19 July 2016

Impressive piano works that show Australian composer Grant Foster to be a distinctive voice on a new release from Melba Recordings

Composer, Grant Foster www.grant-foster.com was born in Sydney, Australia and studied piano with Alexander Sverjensky (1901-1971) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before studying with Marcel Ciampi (1891-1980) in Paris. He began composing at an early age and wrote his first opera, Dark Love, at the age of fifteen.

Eventually, his music was heard by producers in London resulting in his composing of incidental music for Peter Pan directed by Sir Robert Helpmann. The show was a big success and ran for seven consecutive Christmas Seasons.

On his return to Sydney, Foster recorded his first major classical piano work, Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra: War; Peace; Love, for EMI Records. Classical music reviewer in Melbourne, Bob Crimeen, wrote of the Rhapsody: ‘He has written a composition that could in time, be regarded as one of the most significant contributions by an Australian to classical music.’

March 2009 saw the premiere of the Ballad for Two Pianos in France and later that year premiere performances of the Piano Sonata and Overture La Paolina and a recording of Songs of Love and Loss. His Piano Concerto in C Minor was premiered in London in 2010. Foster’s The Pearl of Dubai Suite was recorded in 2011 followed by a recording of his three songs set to poems by Oscar Wilde and the Ballad of Reading Gaol.

A previous recording for Bel Air Music www.belairmusic.com received an enthusiastic response from Gramophone reviewer Andrew Lamb ‘This is amazing! Where has Grant Foster been all these years? The Celebration Overture simply blew me away! I really haven’t heard anything as striking as this for a long while.’ (Gramophone March 2008).

Melba Recordings www.melbarecordings.com.au have now released a recording of piano works by Grant Foster entitled When Love Speaks featuring the composer as pianist.

MR 301147

Grant Foster opens his recording with his Romance in C sharp minor, written in 2015 and adapted from a song by the composer, bringing forceful chords before relaxing and expanding into gentler bars. This music is shot through with the nostalgia of Rachmaninov yet wholly original, showing Foster’s fine gift for melody. Foster himself proves to be a very fine pianist, shaping and structuring the music beautifully before rising to more dynamic moments, then to find a gentle coda.

His Romance in C, written like the Romance in C sharp minor in 2015 and based on a theme from his Second Piano Concerto, opens gently and tentatively as a descending theme is slowly set out. There is a rather haunting atmosphere before the music finds a gentle forward movement, always with a little hesitant catch to the flow.

Foster’s Piano Sonata, written in 2012 and revised in 2015 is a personal response to war. It is in three movements. The Adagio passionato, molto espressivo opens with a forceful series of chords before further, broader chords underpin the theme. The music moves through some rather beautiful harmonic changes before speeding through some quite wonderful, virtuosic passages played with tremendous assurance, with the theme still heard running through the more complex writing.

The Lento, molto espressivo opens quietly with an underlying feel of tragedy. Foster slowly develops the theme through some wonderful, sensitively formed moments, finding a lovely gentle refined section of exquisite beauty. Occasionally there is a Beethovenian sense of depth and tragedy in the way Foster brings slow, deliberate chords. The music subtly turns to a brighter atmosphere, rising through some beautifully controlled passages before slowing and falling back in the most melancholy of moments to lead to a finely shaped coda.

There is an underlying turmoil as the Allegro vivace slowly increases in tempo and dynamics, running quickly through constantly changing passages as the theme develops. Soon the music slows to bring a rather lovely, slower, more relaxed section. Again it is the way Foster shapes and phrases every detail that is really quite wonderful. The music suddenly speeds through a fast moving varied passage that rises and falls all over the keyboard to the sudden coda.

Elegy: In homage to Sir Robert Helpmann (1986) slowly emerges into a beautifully conceived melody that gently finds its way through some lovely passages. There is a really lovely left hand counterpoint that adds so much to the main theme that constantly changes in its tempo and rhythm before rising in drama and passion through the most impressive moments with some fine rippling phrases. There are lovely little harmonic twists and turns before finding the exquisite delicacy of the opening.

Bydlo is dedicated to the artist, Geraldine van Heemstra http://geraldinevanheemstra.com and was inspired by an etching by her that is reproduced in the CD booklet. There is a fine billowing of sound in the opening before moving through passages of more gently rippling, insistent ideas over which the theme develops. There are many little subtleties that run through this fine piece before a sudden coda.

Foster’s Six Preludes were written in 2011 and all but the first inspired by and dedicated to friends. Prelude 1 has a simple little theme which is delicately set out before being gently developed. It has a rather sad, haunting quality with moments of often aching emotion before rising a little in dynamics to fall back for a gentle coda. Prelude 2 has a gentle flow with Foster finding a subtle forward propulsion before a gentle coda.

Prelude 3 brings a gently trickling flow of melody before finding a greater flow with a forward rhythmic pulse, slowly adding decorations around the melody. Prelude 4 has a lovely undulating melody, full of nostalgia, rising through passages of increased passion before a gentler coda.

Prelude 5 opens with a rather darker feel as it slowly moves ahead before finding a lighter character. It weaves a lovely theme through ever changing ideas. Prelude 6 brings some rather lovely harmonies as this fine theme finds its way forward through the most lovely of passages with the lovely harmonies adding so much.

Ballade (2009) rises out of slow, lower phrases to reveal a theme in the right hand that continues over the opening left hand motif. Slowly little variations occur as the music travels through some exquisite moments, always retaining a melancholic air. The music slowly increases in tempo in some varied rhythmic passages, rising more forcefully through passages of great strength, with some lovely playing from Foster, virtuosic, powerful and wonderfully phrased. Later the music falls through gentler, more delicate bars that ripple wonderfully over the keyboard before finding slow chords that bring a hesitant flow before rising dramatically for the coda.  

This is an impressive work in a collection of very fine piano pieces. Here is a composer well work investigating. Whilst there are occasional influences that show through Grant Foster is a distinctive voice in his own right. 

He receives an excellent recording and there are brief but useful notes on the music by the composer.

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