Brighton-based pianist Helen Burford presented a varied and creative programme of music in a Sunday afternoon concert as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. Praised for her innovative and joyful approach to programming, the concert included three world premieres by contemporary British composers Georgina Bowden, Sadie Harrison and Barry Mills interpersed with works by Bill Evans, J S Bach, Claude Debussy and Chick Corea.
The concert opened with what I have come to regard as Helen’s “signature piece”, the haunting and hypnotic Incarnation II by Japanese composer Somei Satoh. Twelve extraordinary minutes of an absorbing soundscape, the work relies on primarily on the prolongation of vibrations (repeated notes) and is an exercise in control on the part of the performer who is given free will in the work as to how long it should last. Through these devices, the work conjures up the most extraordinary sonorities – horns, cellos, bells, drums. This was followed by the first premiere of the afternoon, ‘Hymn for Piano’ by Georgian Bowden, which also explored the sonorities of the piano in contemplative chords and gentle movements around the keyboard, and was played with a simple sensitivity by Helen.
Helen is noted for unusual programme juxtapositions and at first placing a prelude and fugue by J S Bach with Bill Evans’s jazz classic ‘Peace Piece’ may seem curious. But in the fact it proved fascinating, for the arabesques in Bach’s writing were neatly reflected in filigree improvisatory motifs in Peace Piece, all set over an ostinato bass line redolent of Satie’s Gymnopedies. This also set the scene for Sadie Harrison’s Four Jazz Portraits, written for Helen and inspired by jazz greats Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Fats Waller and Albert Ammons. The four miniatures all contained witty references to these jazz greats, and were delivered with deftness and humour by Helen.
The third part of the programme stepped away from jazz and into music inspired by the landscape. Debussy’s Bruyeres from the second book of Preludes evokes heather (or a town in northern France). This was paired with Barry Mill’s ‘Evocations’ whose titles – Falmer Pond with Ducks, Geese and Gulls, The Rowan Tree and Clouds forming, Clouds dissolving (Homage to Debussy) – suggest similar settings to Debussy’s work. The works by Mills recalled Debussy in their colourful harmonies and trimbres, and swirling movements.
The concert closed with a triptych by Chick Corea – ‘Where Have I Loved You Before’, ‘Where Have I Danced With You Before” and Where Have I Known You Before’ – all played with affection and an acute sense of their improvisatory nature.
Details of Helen’s forthcoming concerts here