ENDNOTES, 16th May 2016
In this edition: Interview with Royal Philharmonic Society Award-winner, Clare Hammond * German and French recorder concertos * Brahms, Piano Quintet from Chandos * Looking forward to the Proms – in London and Cardiff.
A stream of CDs arrives each month on our desk, with a recent eye-catching new recording from the Swedish label, BIS, which – in its clean, sharp, immaculate packaging – often champions contemporary music. Kenneth Hesketh (b. 1968) is a British composer who seems to have developed an unparalleled sound-world: a modern impressionism of unceasing invention; of suspension and movement; of layers of sound – varying from (as in the 12-movement work, Horae (PRO CLARA) (Breviary for Clare) from 2012) the sound of “the tiniest humming bird” and an “evening full of linnet’s wings” – to a desolate Molto misterioso, ‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’. Performed by Royal Philharmonic Society Award-winner, Clare Hammond (she secured this year’s prestigious RPS ‘Young Artist’ category, and is also a dedicatee of Hesketh’s work) the new disc*, produced by BIS engineer, Robert Suff, must rank as one of the most thought-provoking productions of new music to have appeared in recent years.
Earlier this month, The Quarterly Review was extremely fortunate to secure a few moments in Clare’s demanding schedule for a discussion and wide-ranging interview, and we began by discussing Kenneth Hesketh. I ventured to suggest how the composer’s music was – unlike some contemporary compositions – (pleasingly) lacking in confrontational emotions, and instead, represented something more in-tune with a desire for peace and order in the human spirit – Hesketh being, to some extent, a British version of the Japanese composer and sage, Takemitsu. Clare’s response was extremely interesting: “There is a great deal of light in Kenneth’s music, and I can see your idea about Takemitsu. There is, though, also a contrast in his works, between the extreme complexity of turbulent passages, and the many sections which are lightly textured and lightly coloured.” I wondered if, as was the case with Britten who often wrote specifically with the voice of tenor, Peter Pears, in mind, that Hesketh – similarly – composed for Clare Hammond’s style and personality as an artist. “During the compositional process, Kenneth might have a clear picture of something, discussing it with me, but ultimately he writes music which can be performed by anyone. But the second work on the CD, the breviary, was written for me – with the idea that I would fully realise this clear aural picture.”
Another composer close to Clare’s heart is the Polish contemporary master, who came to settle in Britain, Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-91). Having recorded, performed and “curated” much of Panufnik’s work, the pianist sees his output as music that combines the deeply personal and the universal: “I am fascinated by the relationship between the music and the biographical points in his life: his music is actually autobiographical, a response to what has happened to him – from the Second World War, to his time in Krakow and beyond. Yet there is a lyricism, a connection with humanity and the human voice, as well as abstract theoretical reflections which would appeal to the mind of a musician and performer – for example, the way in which one work is conceived as a cycle of ‘fifths’”.
Clare also has a strong bond with overlooked contemporary British music, having performed last year at Suffolk’s William Alwyn Festival. I asked her if it was a “duty” for British musicians to champion our native composers: “Within my own work, I find many such pieces to be inspiring, and it is important for them to receive platform time. They are appealing and expressive. I feel that the English composers add diversity to our programmes, and as a result of that it’s not just a ‘duty’ to perform them. The location of the composers, such as Alwyn in Suffolk, adds a narrative to the music.” But what is Clare’s approach to the important campaign in classical music to reach out – especially to younger audiences, which – sadly – seem to have little exposure to music and the arts? In appealing in new stylistic ways to new listeners, could classical music be in danger of losing something of its magic, or its ritual? Clare continued: “As an artist, I cannot have a barrier to my audience. I must have contact with them, and I often introduce music to an audience of young people, providing a preface to what they are about to hear. A spoken introduction helps. I retain formalities, but sometimes such formalities may not have a relevance to some audiences, so I would engage with them in a different way. I find this very satisfying.”
The QR congratulates this remarkable musician on her RPS Award and we thought that it might be useful to know what plans lie ahead. As one might expect, she is in huge demand as a solo and concerto artist: “I am looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival, and in October I will be curating BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concerts for the Belfast International Arts Festival. I will also be performing in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra, but as yet the programme for the latter has not been announced.” We shall keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Autumn South Bank season…
Having just described the music of Kenneth Hesketh, I hope that we will not be overburdening our readers with another modern recommendation – this time, a collection of German and French recorder concertos (three world premiere recordings, no less) given by Michala Petri – a soloist, perhaps, better known for baroque performances – supported by the superb Odense Symphony Orchestra under Christoph Poppen. The CD comes from OUR Recordings (distributed by Naxos). The three concertos are by Gunter Kochan (1930-2009), Markus Zahnhausen and Fabrice Bollon (both born, 1965) – Bollon’s genre-crossing, rock-group Genesis-inspired concerto standing out in particular, due to his view that “contemporary art music is a lost cause” and his use of the orchestra as…
“… an imaginary band, thereby expanding Genesis’s typical palette of artful fairy-tale, childish fascination and cartoonish fantasy: an orchestra without woowinds or horns, without violins or violas, but with three trumpets, three trombones, marimba, vibraphone, drum set, harp, cellos and double-basses, joined by a very dominant keyboard. The keyboard and the recorders are the only amplified instruments, and the keyboard is employed with the colours typical of its genre to conjure effectively the authentic Genesis sound: Chorus, E-Piano, Rock Organ, Old Pianino…”
Recorded at the Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense, Denmark last year, the quality of the engineering is superb: listen in particular for the extraordinary capturing of such details as side-drum taps, and the “bright light” of the solo instrument, the recorder – which emerges as a dynamic instrument with much range and potential in 21st-century new music; much more of a presence than just a charming, antique sound from the world of the Brandenburg Concertos. (OUR Recordings, cat. no. 6.220614.)
Finally, from our CD pile, comes radiant romanticism from the 19th-century – a Brahms chamber concert, featuring the Brodsky Quartet in the String Quartet, Op. 51, No. 1, a work described by Clara Schumann as: “In short, a masterpiece.” There is, possibly, very little to add to that appreciation, as the Brodsky players navigate through the four movements of lyrical, noble, uplifting writing – every bit as fulsome as the weighty symphonies for which the composer is best known. The second movement – Romanze. Poco Adagio – is articulated with profound sensitivity and absolute understanding by this leading ensemble; and yet, even this fine passage seems almost eclipsed by the even more impressive, expansive Piano Quintet, Op. 34, in which the piano part is performed by the (in equal measure) intense and light-of-touch Natacha Kudritskaya – who, at the age of 19, won a place at the Conservatoire National Superieur in Paris. The CD cover is magnificently illustrated with a 19th-century painting of an Alpine scene (the Grossglockner by Markus Pernhart (1824-71)), with walkers and mountaineers pausing and pointing on a snowy plateau – a peak looming before them in a soft grey sky. If the listener needs a picture in the mind with which to listen to this music, the booklet or picture editor at Chandos Records has surely captured the essence of this new Brahms edition. (Brahms, Quartet and Piano Quintet, performed by the Brodsky Quartet, recorded at Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk – recording producer, Jeremy Hayes, sound engineer, Jonathan Cooper – CHAN 10892.)
We will conclude Endnotes with news of two Proms seasons. Firstly, the BBC has published its mammoth Proms prospectus – the highlights of which include masterpieces such as Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Prokofiev’s evocation of frozen lakes, knights and battlefields of the dead, Alexander Nevsky, on the First Night. That great veteran Mahlerian, Bernard Haitink, visits the Royal Albert Hall to conduct Mahler’s immense embracing of the whole world, his Third Symphony; and at the end of the season, the Staatskapelle Dresden performs the music of Bruckner. The BBC continues to uphold the vision of the original founding-conductor, Sir Henry Wood, with much contemporary music and “novelties”, and it is particularly commendable that space is found for “outreach” events, such as the famous Ten Pieces Prom, in which immediately accessible – and some challenging works – are presented to schoolchildren; and even a concert in a car-park in Peckham!
Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, Owain Arwel Hughes CBE – an international conductor dedicated to the musical life of his native Wales – leads several orchestras in a shorter, but nonetheless adventurous and artistically excellent Proms season at St. David’s Hall. The Welsh Proms now has an established pedigree, the concerts having begun in 1986, not long after St. David’s Hall opened and became a centre for a renewed musical life in Wales. Owain is joined by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for his Last Night revelry (Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 followed by the traditional songs of the Welsh nation); and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Bournemouth Symphony orchestras – who mix Holst’s The Planets with Karl Jenkins’s For the Fallen, Barber’s Adagio and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The QR will endeavour to be at The Royal Albert Hall and St. David’s during the summer, for what promises to be a feast of music.
*Kenneth Hesketh, performed by Clare Hammond. Catalogue number: BIS2193
Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review