Halo: Music for Piano

I have long enjoyed performing and recording a wonderful variety of contemporary music by some of our most exciting and innovative composers. Most of this repertoire has been for voice and piano, or chamber ensemble, affording me the joy and privilege of working with numerous fine and distinguished musicians.

This CD is however my first recording of contemporary music for solo piano, and has been a revelatory and inspiring experience.

Introducing music written in our own time is at once a joy and a responsibility. Often, and despite our best efforts, some very good scores are heard on only a handful of occasions. For many listeners it will be their first encounter with a new composer. Thus a clear belief in the sound world of every composer one premieres is vital not just to the success of a new piece by to winning or losing potential admirers for living composers.

The composers on this disc dwell in very different yet equally marvellous sound worlds. Andrew Matthews-Owen

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This latest disc released by the Richard Thomas Foundation (“aiming to bring interesting and occasionally challenging pieces of contemporary music to new audiences”) is as good as the others I’ve heard. The nervous should begin with the seven Modétudes by the Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova, each one allotted a different musical mode. It's remarkable how each tiny piece has such a distinct character, my favourites being the doleful Locrian, immediately followed by a very Bartókian study in the Phrygian mode. Tabakova’s three-part Halo gives the collection its title, an otherworldly exploration of piano harmonics inspired by a glimpse of a halo around a full moon. The final section is a treat, its ostinato riff overlaid with glints and flashes of light.

Hannah Kendall’s On the Chequer’d Field Array’d is an entertaining attempt to describe the three stages of a chess game in musical form. Kendall’s slow, probing opening leads to a dense middle section and exhausted coda which suggests that the defeated party has taken it pretty badly. And there’s a set of Six Preludes by Joseph Phibbs, improvisatory, unfussy marvels of economy. No. 4, a gentle processional of bell sounds and elegant melody, is irresistible. Especially as played here by dedicatee Andrew Matthews-Owen, another persuasive advocate for new keyboard music. Appealingly resonant recording, and the sleeve art is great. Another reason why CDs will always win over downloads.

Graham Rickson, theartsdesk.com

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