Hellawall Sound Carvings

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Hellawall Sound Carvings

  • Sound Carvings from the Water's Edge
  • Truth or Consequences
  • Sound Carvings from the Ice Wall
  • Memorial Cairns
  • Sound Carvings fron Rano Raraku

Piers Hellawell (b. 1956) teaches composition at the Queen’s University of Belfast and, especially with the premiere of Do Not Disturb by the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis now under his belt, is fast emerging as one of the leading composers of his generation. This disc juxtaposes two works for string orchestra, Sound Carvings from the Water’s Edge and Memorial Cairns, with three works for chamber groups of differing sizes. Three of these pieces are what Hellawell calls “Sound Carvings”, where individual sections stand apart from each other almost like sculptural objects to be appreciated on their own terms.
In the CD booklet SJ characterizes the sound of these blocks as “hard-edged and cross-grained” and I find this description neatly encapsulates Hellawell’s palpable delight in bright and open textures, and in gritty gestures inspired by Irish folk music and the Balinese gamelan. It is possible to trace echoes of Messiaen and Steve Reich in some of the works on this disc, but Hellawell has a fine feeling for the ‘grain’ of instrumental sound that leads him, in a pleasing way, to shift the focus of the music at a moment when you are least expecting it. The fine balance he strikes between stasis and change perhaps accounts for his music’s special sense of poise.
Hellawell tends to build textures out of heterogeneous elements as in Balinese gamelan. An individual section may place on top of each other a tapped percussive rhythm, an unfolding chord sequence and a solo melismatic line in such a way that their precise rhythmic relationship cannot be analysed by the listener but can still be felt. You would expect such an idea to be less easy to realize for a homogeneous grouping such as a string orchestra, but the scoring is well judged, if a little harsh and thick in places for my taste. Nevertheless, the BT Scottish Ensemble clearly relish the variety of textures and colours in Sound Carvings from the Water’s Edge and give a moving account of the elegiac second half to the earlier Memorial Cairns.
I personally prefer the smaller of the chamber pieces, Truth or Consequences and Sound Carvings from Rano Raraku, where the exposed nature of the writing for each instrument seems to allow Hellawell more space to explore different types of texture, with the players of Psappha responding well to every light and shade of this multifaceted music. All credit to Metronome for this useful introduction to the music of a composer who promises much for the future.'

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