‘Verbs’ is a collection of 24 Preludes for left hand only by composer Kathleen Ryan. Commissioned by her friend and colleague American pianist and Steinway Artist, Keith Porter-Snell, the unifying theme of this suite of miniatures is the idea of verbs, one for each prelude to convey an individual quality of energy and motion, with titles such as Wait, Crackle, Drift, Bloom, Murmur, Tease, Tangle and Bless.
The repertoire for the left hand alone is wide, including most famously Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne, Op 9, Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand (composed for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during the First War) and studies by Godowsky and others. Many pianists use left hand studies and pieces to improve their technique (the left hand often being the weaker hand for naturally right-handed pianists); others are forced to turn to left hand repertoire for reasons of injury. After suffering a repetitive motion injury to his right hand some years ago, Keith Porter-Snell withdrew from performing to concentrate on his teaching career, while also developing an interest in left hand repertoire. He relaunched his performing career in 2006, specialising in piano music for the left hand alone.
By skillfully switching between the high and low registers of the piano and utilising full textures and bright or unexpected harmonies, Ryan creates the illusion of two hands playing. Coupled with Keith’s clean, lucid and sensitively articulated sound and the wonderfully echoey acoustic of Monkton Coombe School (where the album was recorded in May 2013), these preludes hark back to earlier antecedents by Debussy, Rachmaninov, Chopin and J S Bach in their variety and appeal, creating an album rich in contrasts. Ryan’s composing style is eclectic, referencing jazz, contemporary classical, traditional classical, and American folk songs and hymns: Play, for example, is a vibrant anthem, redolent of sacred harp singing, while other Preludes are more contemplative, tender and wistful (Forgive, Bloom). Push is energetic and rumbling, suggesting bustling city life, Bounce scampers playfully around the keyboard with jazzy syncopations and colourful harmonies, and Tangle is redolent of some of Prokofiev’s more introspective ‘Visions Fugitives’. The album closes with the meditative Bless.
This interesting and appealing project is a celebration of left hand repertoire, a musical friendship, and the art of the Prelude and the miniature. Recommended.
‘Verbs’ is available from iTunes and other online music stores.
Kathleen Ryan’s Meet the Artist interview will be published soon.