SEABOURNE Steps: An Anthology for Piano, Vol 1
The five volumes that comprise Steps marked an unequivocal return to composition for Peter Seabourne (b1960). The first and last (the central three volumes were reviewed in A/13 and A/14) confirm his music’s expressive range; not least an anthological first volume (2006) that juxtaposes evocative studies, lengthy ruminations and pithy vignettes. ‘The Little White Girl’ takes its cue from a Whistler painting, via a Swinburne poem, when portraying youth as reflected in experience with music both winsome and restless; ‘El suspiro del Moro’ depicts the last Moorish king’s retreat from Granada in epic but also intimate terms; while ‘In Winter’ draws upon verse by Stefan George and Sylvia Plath for miniatures nostalgic and quizzical.
The fifth volume, Sixteen Scenes Before a Crucifixion (2014), is less a collection than a linear meditation on the Passiontide canvases by Caravaggio, as translated into music Seabourne has described as ‘overwhelmingly pessimistic and bleak’. This is already evident in ‘I’, akin to a processional in its sombrely tolling chords and halting rhythmic tread that emerges into the foreground then returns into the distance. ‘IV’ affords brief affirmation with its ecstatic trills and arabesques, and ‘VIII’ summons a melody from its texture to moving effect offset by the agitated manner overall. ‘XII’ is the most complex in meshing antagonistic elements towards a brutal climax, while ‘XVI’ brings a starkly fatalistic ending as betrayal effects crucifixion.
Both these performers are notably attuned to Seabourne’s music. The poise and dexterity of Minjeong Shin are notably well served by what is undoubtedly the finest recording on any of these discs, while Alessandro Viale sounds hardly less inside the fraught sound world of his sequence. Informative booklet-notes from the composer. Those who have been collecting this series need not hesitate – though newcomers should certainly begin with Vol 1.