Guest article by William Howard

howardskempton_forwebsite
Howard Skempton

Howard Skempton is one of the UK’s most engaging and distinctive composers. Now in his seventies, he has produced a large and varied body of more than 300 works. Amongst these are over 100 pieces for solo piano, which he describes as the ‘central nervous system’ of his work. It is a treasure trove for both amateur and professional pianists, in which most of the pieces are very approachable from a technical point of view (in contrast to a great deal of contemporary piano music) whilst being at the same time hugely rewarding to explore and perform.

Almost all of Skempton’s piano pieces have been written for friends and colleagues or for special occasions. They are predominantly short, tonal and sparingly composed, with very few notes to the page. Many of them look very simple and are, in fact, quite easy to sight read, but, in my experience the only time these pieces are ever easy is when you are sight-reading them. As soon as you start practising them the challenge begins. Their apparent simplicity is deceptive, a conclusion reached in an excellent programme on BBC radio 3 recently called The Simple Truth, in which Tom Service explored the subject of ‘Simplicity in Music’. Commenting on one of Howard Skempton’s short piano pieces, he said “Simple, isn’t it…well, you try composing it!”. I would add “try playing it!”.

One of my favourites is Solitary Highland Song, which he wrote in 2017 for a collection of love songs for solo piano that I commissioned. When the piece first arrived, I immediately read it through and found it deeply moving. In fact, I couldn’t get it out of my head for days. It consists of a simple and haunting eight bar tune, repeated six times, each time slightly differently. The dynamics start at pp, progress to mp and return to pp. Nothing complicated here. And yet I remember practising the piece for hours and hours before I gave its first performance, and I still practise it a lot before a performance. Why? The simplest answer that I can give is that it takes time to really hear the music. Skempton’s musical language is so distilled and pared down that every note, chord and musical gesture must be perfectly calibrated. Quite apart from the question of mastering total control of touch and voicing, the performer must seek out the essential character of each piece by learning to be open to what is interesting within the music, rather than trying to make the music sound interesting. There are no short cuts in this process. Skempton deliberately gives only minimal performance instructions, so that performers are invited to participate in the music and develop their own awareness of subtle changes and shifting patterns. The more I play Solitary Highland Song, the more I become aware of the genius behind every choice the composer has made: the subtle changes of register, for example, or the distribution of notes in chords and unexpected changes of harmony and rhythm. For me the piece is an enduring delight, and, I think for others too, since it has recently achieved the wonderful landmark of being heard over a million times on streaming platforms.

An example of an even sparser piece would be the third of the Reflections, a collection of eleven pieces that Skempton wrote for me between 1999 and 2002. It consists of four two note chords, a ninth or tenth apart, which are repeated in a different order eight times. The only performance instructions given by the composer are that the chords should all be played approximately two seconds apart, ppp and pedalled throughout. Where is the challenge here? Well, for a start, it is not easy to sustain molto pianissimo playing with a consistent sound, even for just over a minute. The more you play the piece, the more your listening becomes tuned in to the slightest blemish, or bumped note. And the more you listen, the more you start to become aware of the harmonic resonance shifts in different ways as the order of the chords change. By the time I came to record this piece, my ears were highly sensitised to the point where the tiniest imbalance in a chord would sound like a catastrophe. But it became very clear in the recording sessions that what brings a performance to life for the composer are the tiny unexpected or unplanned things that happen and the way a performer responds to them. In his characteristically gentle and encouraging manner, Howard Skempton decided that what we might have called ‘blemishes’ should be referred to as ‘involuntary refinements’! For him, the most important thing is to keep the music alive at every moment rather than aim for clinical perfection.

I recommend this repertoire strongly to fellow pianists at every level of ability. You will find pieces that are hauntingly beautiful, others that are quirky and playful; they are always imaginative, beautifully crafted and unpredictable. As well as giving a huge amount of pleasure they can teach us a great deal about our relationship to the keyboard and about how we listen to ourselves. Having totally immersed myself in Skempton’s music recently, I find that all the other repertoire I am coming back to sounds new and refreshed to my ears.

Scores are easy to obtain. Oxford University Press have published three volumes of Skempton’s piano pieces, which are reasonably priced. Most recently Howard Skempton has taken on the challenge of writing 24 Preludes and Fugues, an intriguing cycle of miniatures covering all 24 major and minor keys, written last year and lasting barely 23 minutes. These will be published by OUP in the coming months.


William Howard’s recording of Howard Skempton’s 24 Preludes and Fugues (2019), Nocturnes (1995), Reflections (1999-2002) and Images (1989) will be released on Orchid Classics (ORC100116) on 14th February. Pre-order here.:

Anyone who pre-orders the album can enter a prize draw to win one of five copies of Solitary Highland Song, signed by the composer. Please forward your order confirmation email to mail@williamhoward.co.uk before 14th February.

The album will be launched with a recital by William Howard at Kings Place on Wednesday 12th February at 7.30pm in which he will play works by Bach, Schubert and Howard Skempton. Tickets and further details here

Meet the Artist interview with William Howard

williamhoward.co.uk

orchidclassicsorc100116

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

There are no musicians in my family. My parents enrolled me in a music school when I was five and there I started discovering this world from scratch. I chose the piano from the beginning because it was a magnificent instrument with a huge range of registers and possibilities.

Over the years, my interest for music kept growing and I started expanding my skills. I began playing the drums in a band, I learned how to play the guitar, I became an active member in several choirs and I composed. Although I was still pursuing my main musical studies in piano, all these new experiences enriched my relationship with music and allowed me to gain new perspectives that probably I wouldn’t have had if I had solely focused on a ‘keyboard’ approach.

Nevertheless, when I started my Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics I had to prioritise and I eventually ended up focusing on the piano. During my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the Catalonia College of Music (ESMUC) and the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London, my personal commitment to performing became even stronger and determined my pursuit for a career as a pianist. However, if I have to say what really inspired me, I think that is becoming addicted to the excitement of creating a live performance on stage that is different every single time.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My musical taste has changed a lot and I have admired and worshiped artists and bands from all sorts of musical genres: rock, punk, pop, indie, funk, jazz, and of course, classical music. Playing different instruments and styles also allowed me to experience those genres from inside, and that significantly made a difference for me. With time, classical music became the main influence, but I have remained open-minded.

Glenn Gould’s distinctive recordings was one of the earliest and more determinant musical influences for me. I found it tremendously compelling that he could play so rationally, while being extremely creative and artistic. A model that pushed me to find my own voice between mathematics and music. I truly admired his originality of thought and his conviction to build a controversial but unique sound world. Another was Friedrich Gulda, and his incredible range both as a classical and jazz pianist.

However, probably the most distinctive revelation for me was to discover the masterpieces from the 20th and 21st centuries, too often neglected by the conservatoire’s tradition. A repertoire that I felt artistically closer to and that stimulated my curiosity to work and premiere new music by living composers. Each collaboration challenged and transformed my understanding of music, especially for the core repertoire.

Probably the musician that has influenced me the most and the one I’ve been studying the longest with is my piano professor at ESMUC, Jean-François Dichamp. He taught me a very solid technique and an extraordinary musicality which significantly transformed me as a performer. While studying with him, I fell in love with the music of Messiaen and Dutilleux, and, as a consequence, I started exploring further the more recent French repertoire to which I dedicated my first album ‘The French Reverie’.

My piano professors Jordi Vilaprinyó and Stanislav Pochekin were also a determinant influence and, along with Jean-François Dichamp, have been my mentors over the years.

During my Master’s at the Royal College of Music I specialised in contemporary repertoire with Andrew Zolinsky, where I had a wide range of performing opportunities that allowed me to reinforce my experience with new music. I also became acquainted with Crumb’s, Stockhausen’s and Lang’s piano music which became an important influence for me.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There have been many, but probably one of the craziest ones was to combine simultaneously a Bachelor’s degree in piano performance and a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics at two different universities.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My first milestone as a professional musician has been without doubt the recording of my debut album ‘The French Reverie’, featuring works by Messiaen, Dutilleux, Manoury, Escaich, Ben-Amots, Järventausta and Djambazov. It has been a risky project because I chose non-standard repertoire by mostly alive composers. However, before I recorded it, I visited and played for all of them, and precisely for this it has become an exceptional and unprecedented experience.

In addition of recording, I have also been the producer and the fundraiser of the album, which was generously supported by 208 patrons from 28 countries across the five continents! Although at the beginning it was scary, it allowed me to gain a lot of insight on the music industry and which strategies work to engage an audience and the press to promote your project.

At the moment, I’m currently planning a concert tour of the countries of the composers involved: France, Finland, Bulgaria, Israel and USA, along with Spain and the UK.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that what I play best is the Contemporary Classical Repertoire, especially because it is what I enjoy the most to perform. Also, Debussy, Ravel, Falla, Brahms and Bach.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I have a huge predilection for rhythmical pieces, so I always try to include some in my repertoire. Above all, I focus on finding or selecting works that I’m looking forward to play and try to arrange them in terms of a story or a concept. I also try to link major works from the core repertoire with masterpieces from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I like to play in venues in which architecture has a strong artistic component. I think it adds an additional layer of spirituality to the performance. However, any venue with good acoustics, an enjoyable piano and a receptive audience is equally special.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Miles Davis, Hayk Melikyan, Alicia de Larrocha, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Maika Makovski, Martha Argerich, Glenn Gould, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Grigory Sokolov, Daniil Trifonov, Ivo Pogorelich, Elliott Smith, Zoltan Kocsis, Malena Ernman, Valentina Lisitsa, Sviatoslav Richter, András Schiff, Bill Evans, Maria Callas, Evgeny Kissin, Belle and Sebastian, Cecilia Bartoli, Friedrich Gulda, Art Tatum, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Lennie Tristano, Arcadi Volodos, Hole, NOFX, Art Blakey, Murray Perahia, Pearl Jam, Muse, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Leonard Slatkin, William Bolcom, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Anna Netrebko, Renée Fleming, Simon Rattle, Joshua Bell and Isabelle Faust.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It is really difficult to choose a single performance because each one has something special. However, maybe one of the most distinct and unforgettable experiences I had is when I performed George Crumb’s Makrokosmos I. This is a set of twelve pieces, each one dedicated to a different sign of the zodiac, meaning that you have to portray a different character in every single one. With this work you cross all possible boundaries as a performer and you create an outstanding sound world. It literally transforms you into someone else and you discover that you’re capable of leading and communicating with the audience in ways you never suspected.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think that you can consider yourself successful when you don’t need to compromise your artistic aspirations to make a living. When you are doing exactly what you want, and you get a positive response. For me, success is not about money or becoming famous. It is essentially feeling self-accomplished and to have the necessary public recognition to develop your own projects.

It is also having the certainty that with your job you’re making a difference in your field in something that you feel passionate about. To be able to communicate that to others.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think it is extremely important to think about why you want to become a professional musician and what could be your contribution. In other words, to be creative, to question general assumptions in your field and to find your own voice. And above all, to be patient, proactive, persistent and determined to work hard.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Hopefully having an established career as a musician and with lots of ideas and projects in mind. Ideally, being able to travel and to work with inspiring people.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I tend to agree with Zygmunt Bauman when he states that happiness is the result of fighting and overcoming difficulties. Personally, I like challenges and absolutely love the feeling of accomplishment when I have been able to achieve my goals. Probably that’s why I have such a predilection for complex repertoire too. I think that perfect happiness is the result of having an enthusiastic and healthy ambition.

What is your most treasured possession?

Although it is not strictly a possession, I would say time. You can achieve anything with it and is something that money can’t buy. Everything I’m proud of and every unforgettable experience I have is a consequence of having had the time for it.

 

Laura Farré Rozada’s debut album The French Reverie is available now. Further information

 


Laura Farré Rozada is an award-winning pianist and mathematician specialised in contemporary music. She is currently based in London, where she recently completed her Master of Music degree with Andrew Zolinsky as an RCM Patrons’ Award Holder. She previously graduated with Distinction from her Bachelor and Master piano studies with Jean-François Dichamp at ESMUC (Catalonia College of Music), and from her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at UPC (Polytechnic University of Catalonia). She obtained several Distinction Awards in all her studies.

Read more

 

 

An embarrassment of riches amongst recent releases for piano. I regret I don’t have time to write a detailed review of each one, but I hope this brief overview will pique the interest…..

Denes Varjon – De La Nuit (ECM)

Varjon brings vivid imagination and musical poetry to works by Schumann, Ravel and Bartok whose associations with night-time are the unifying thread in this recording which works well as a “recital disc”. Varjon’s sense of spontaneity and range of colours is particularly suited to Schumann’s ever-shifting moods, while the quality of the production brings a special shimmer and resonance to the Ravel.

Steven Osborne – Rachmaninov: Complete Etudes Tableaux (Hyperion)

Osborne’s clarity, scrupulous attention to detail and musical sense, coupled with his wide-ranging sound palette and imagination, bring these miniature “picture studies”  brilliantly to life, often revealing unexpected inner voices and textures. Despite their brevity, many of these works mirror the idioms, architecture and expansiveness of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos: Osborne really appreciates this and treats them with the respect they deserve.

Vikingur Olafsson: Bach (DG)

I very much enjoyed Olafsson’s Philip Glass recording (2017), in particular for his very personal, romantic approach to Glass’s music, richly expressive playing and beautiful cantabile sound. He imbues Bach’s keyboard music with the same qualities, making a strong case for an individual approach to this music and proving that there is no “right way” to play Bach. The wide range of Bach’s character is also revealed, from playful and witty to sombre and grief-laden, while the transcriptions, including Silotti’s ethereal B minor Prelude, pay hommage to Bach’s own penchant for borrowing or augmenting others’ works while also demonstrating how Bach touches and inspires each generation.

 

Helen Anahita Wilson: Bhooma (Golden Girl Records)

I must admit a personal connection here as Helen is a friend of mine and I have been fortunate to hear selections from her debut disc at several of her concerts over the past year. This album reflects Helen’s ongoing interest in Indian and Persian music and includes her own compositions – intimate miniatures with Sitar-like shimmers of sound, hypnotically pulsing accompaniments, and perfumed chords – alongside works by Peter Feuchtwanger (with whom she studied) and Chick Corea, plus a piece by Stephen Montague, ‘Beguiled’ written especially for her. The piano sound is warm and mellow, perfect for this music.

 

 

 

St John’s Smith Square announces OCCUPY THE PIANOS Festival 2018 
Friday 20 -Sunday 22 April 2018
Celebrating two themes: Protest and The Journey Within 

Including more than a dozen world premieres, a led meditation, a queer concert and Radulescu’s Icons in SJSS’s crypt (pianos laid on their sides with their action removed) 

St John’s Smith Square is delighted to announce its third full Occupy the Pianos festival curated by pianist and composer Rolf Hind. The numerous concerts from 20-22 April are studded with many freshly-written works and radical takes on music and concert-giving, with new and radical piano music at its core.

The two themes this year are Protest (from the feminist angle in Maxwell Davies to the words of prisoners in Rzewski, from a plea for compassion to animals to radical rethinking of music making from a queer angle) and The Journey Within. These themes don’t merely relate to the music chosen but the manner of presentation: so the second main day – The Journey Within – will gradually dissolve into audience participation with everyone ending up downstairs in the cafe together, by way of a concert conducted as a led meditation with Eliza McCarthy.

Rolf Hind says of this year’s festival:

St Johns’s Smith Square is only a stone’s throw from Parliament Square, site of protest and agitation for hundreds of years. In keeping with our name, this year’s programming considers politics and protest. At the same time – reflecting the beautiful, serene space in which we find ourselves in this church, the festival’s 2nd day will move towards spirituality and the journey within, offering new ways for the audience to encounter music and their experience of it.

There will be more than a dozen new works over the weekend, placing the focus on future directions for the piano, a focus also highlighted by the appearance of the extraordinary Magnetic Resonator piano in Rolf Hind’s Friday night recital. There has been a Call for Scores (Occupy the Pianos received over 100 new pieces in the past) and the weekend begins with a workshop on writing for the piano, with further pieces dropped into the weekend as surprises.

Increasing the sense of fluidity between events there will be two of Radulescu’s Icons housed in the crypt. These Icons are grand pianos laid on their sides which have had the action removed and are then played in unique ways.   At the end of the festival there will be a chance for members of the public to improvise on these instruments themselves.

Don’t miss the concert “On a Queer Day” on 21st April at 4pm, where several pieces will be introduced by an investigation of what it means to play Bach queerly and later that evening at 7.30pm there is Kagel’s Staatstheater, a surreal theatre piece, funny, disturbing, and politically engaged, which takes apart the whole concert hall experience, and doesn’t really put it back together again!

Also on the 20th there is a must-see performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a mad, wronged woman – uniquely in this case the role of Miss Donnithorne is shared by two of our most exciting vocalists, Elaine Mitchener and Loré Lixenberg.

The musicians involved in Occupy the Pianos are hand-picked by Rolf Hind: creative, multi-faceted and collaborative.

As well as being wonderful players they are thoughtful and curious about repertoire, and willing to take part in different elements of the weekend which gives it a joyful, collegiate feel. In each festival new players are added to the mix, fascinating young players often at the beginning of their careers. Not necessarily the “prize-winners” but brilliant musicians with a distinctive edge and profile.

At the festival’s heart is an ever-growing team of brilliant musicians whose approach is outwardlooking, unconventional and curious. The collegiate communal spirit of that group has made Occupy the Pianos such an adventure. An adventure that continues…

– Rolf Hind

 

For more information & tickets please visit

www.sjss.org.uk/otp2018


Source: press release/ Jo Carpenter Music PR Consultancy

0712396065227_600When I put ‘Return of the Nightingales’ (Prima Facie records) into my CD player, my cat Monty immediately dashed into my office and up onto my desk to find the birds that sing so sweetly at the start of the title track of this new disc of music by Sadie Harrison. The piano enters, delicately yet brightly, imitating the twittering birdsong before moving into a lively, rhythmic passage. Ian Pace, the pianist for this track, is very much at home in contemporary and new music for piano, and it shows in the ease with which he handles technical difficulties and his vivid, immediate sound.

The variety of writing in just a few minutes of this piece signals the theme for the entire disc: it’s a wonderful example of Sadie’s compositional breadth and rich imagination and a lovely introduction to her colourful and accessible music. Not only does the disc demonstrate the range of Sadie’s compositional palette but it also showcases the talents of four excellent pianists – Ian Pace, Renée Reznek, Duncan Honeybourne and Philippa Harrison, all of whom have considerable experience in this type of repertoire and who bring myriad colours, timbre and musical sensitivity and individuality to each work on the disc.

Composed between 2011 and 2017, the pieces on this disc reveal the many contrasting styles within one composer’s output, reflecting Sadie’s wide-ranging musical and cultural influences, including the music of Bartok, Berg, Chopin, and Debussy, jazz legends Bill Evans, Fats Waller and Thelonius Monk, Methodist hymns, vintage film music, her passion for the cultures of Persia and Afghanistan (Sadie is Composer-in-Association of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music), and the natural world. In ‘Return of the Nightingales’ (the title is drawn from the translation of a Persian poem), near-Eastern folk idioms are woven into the starkly modernist suite of pieces Par-feshani-ye ‘eshq (played by Renée Reznek), while in Lunae ‘Four Nocturnes’ Duncan Honeybourne sensitively and sensuously illuminates the tender, intimate lyricism and delicate traceries of these delightful and arresting miniatures (I purchased the sheet music on the strength of this performance in order to learn the pieces myself). Philippa Harrison brings the requisite vibe and swing to the Four Jazz Portraits, capturing the style of each jazz great to whom they are dedicated; while in Shadows ‘Six Portraits of William Baines’ Sadie takes small quotations from Baines’ piano works and reflections on his diary entries to create intriguing miniatures, masterfully presented by Duncan Honeybourne. The Souls of Flowers recalls Chopin in its long-spun melodic lines and shimmering trills, while Northern Lights uses harmonies and idioms redolent of folksong and hymns. The final work, Luna…..for Nicola, is a tiny yet meaningful hommage to Nicola le Fanu, with whom Sadie studied for three years, and was written in response to hearing the premiere of Nicola LeFanu’s orchestral work ‘The Crimson Bird’. in February 2017.

The song of the nightingale is the unifying thread on this disc – in the third of the four Lunae, the evocation of Alabiev–Liszt’s ‘Le Rossignol’ as played by William Baines, and in the fluttering wings of Par-feshani-ye ‘eshq, but also less obviously in the use of trills, sparkling runs, chirruping note clusters and tremolandos.

This is wonderfully rewarding, varied and enjoyable disc, proof that contemporary piano music can be tuneful, attractive and entirely accessible. There is much to delight and challenge the pianist too: the pieces are generally within the capability of the intermediate to advanced player, and are available to purchase as scores (from University of York Music Press). I particularly like Sadie’s treatment of melodic fragments and her jazz-infused harmonies.

Highly recommended

Yuanfan Yang – Watercolour (Orchid Classics)

Nicholas McCarthy – Echoes (Leftnote Records)

Andrew Matthews-Owen – Halo: Music for Piano (Nimbus)

5060189560738At just 20, Yuanfan Yang is already a promising pianist and young composer. Winner of keyboard final of the 2012 BBC Young Musician, he has been a prizewinner in many other international piano competitions. The works by Schubert, Chopin and Liszt on his debut disc represent the kind of mainstream showpiece repertoire one expects from competition participants, and the music played is well-mannered and attractive, rather than attention-grabbing. Schubert’s ever-popular B-flat Impromptu has the requisite lyricism and grace, while the opening of Chopin’s darkly-hued Fantasie in F minor, Op 49 is ponderous rather than portentous. The ‘Winter Wind’ Etude and Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’ are despatched with the kind of youthful gusto one would expect from a musician of this age who has been on the competition circuit for several years now: fleet and pristine fingerwork but rather bloodless in interpretation. La Vallee d’Obermann feels too restrained and lacks the grandeur and spaciousness to really recall the profound majesty of the Alps. Far more interesting are the works composed by Yuanfan himself, colourful programmatic pieces inspired by watercolours, whose titles link them to the pieces by Liszt on this disc and also to Philip Cashian’s ‘Landscape’ and Peter Maxwell-Davis’ ‘Farewell to Stromness’, the final work on the disc, which again feels too polite – a little more Scottish lilt would be welcome. Overall, a nicely-presented “recital” disc showcasing Yuanfan’s developing talents as both pianist and composer.

 

500x500Left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy presents an altogether more mature and convincing performance on his new album ‘Echoes’, which features repertoire by Bach and Rachmaninov which he first explored as a pianist in the early part of his career, all in fine transcriptions for the left hand alone. The final track on the disc is Paul Wittengenstein’s transcription of Bach’s evergreen Prelude in C. Like McCarthy, Wittengenstein was a left-handed pianist (he lost his right arm following an injury in the First World War). If you have seen Nicholas McCarthy in concert you will know that as a left-handed player he is incredibly athletic, utilising the entire range of the keyboard. Nicholas is no novelty act pianist; he is a serious concert pianist whose superb technical ability and musicality enable him to create a rich palette of sounds, colours and shadings, from full-bodied fortissimos to delicate pianissimos, and elegant, lyrical cantabile playing (try the Andante from Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata Op 19 or Bach’s Prelude in C for particularly lovely examples of this). The album begins with a robust and entirely convincing transcription of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor. It loses nothing being played with only one hand, and the same is true for all the pieces on this disc. You would never guess that this music is played with the left hand only, such is the quality and clarity of Nicholas’s sound. The album was recorded on a Yamaha CFX concert grand and the sound quality is direct but never strident with a warm resonance, particularly in the bass. Recommended.

 

51wyuc5onpl‘Halo’ is Andrew Matthews-Owen‘s first solo disc. A highly sought-after collaborative pianist and song accompanist and noted champion of contemporary music, Matthews-Owen showcases his affinity for this repertoire in this rewarding recording of contrasting works by Joseph Phibbs, Dobrinka Tabakova and Hannah Kendall. Phibbs’ Preludes (2016) were dedicated to Matthews-Owen and are short aphoristic works whose spare simplicity, delicate melodic fragments and piquant harmonies are redolent of Schoenberg’s Kleine Klavierstucke. Matthews-Owen’s directness and clarity allows these short works to speak for themselves. Dobrinka Tabakova’s ‘Modétudes’ – brief “studies” based on the main modes (Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian etc) – are characterful miniatures whose individual musical personalities Matthews-Owen delineates with delicacy and precision, alert to their ever-shifting moods. They are folksy in their idioms and immediately accessible to the listener. Hannah Kendall’s ‘On a Chequer’d Field Array’d’ is a work in three parts, inspired by a game of chess: again, Matthews-Owen is always sensitive to the contrasts and switches of emotion in this music. Tabakova’s ‘Nocturne’ is delightful, delicate and songful, while her ‘Halo’, evoking a lunar halo seen one summer’s night, is powerfully atmospheric (the second movement, ‘To blinding shine’ for example, begins with bright rapidly repeating notes, interjected with a hymn-like motif, somewhat reminiscent of Hovhaness’s Visionary Landscapes, before moving into far more dramatic territory). This disc is a splendid advocate for contemporary piano music from a performer whose understanding of and affinity for this music is clear from the very first note to the last.

Recommended.