Spectrum - 50 Contemporary Works for Solo Piano
This is an impressive successor to Myers’s two previous discs – ‘British Piano Music of the 1980s’ on Libra and ‘Perspectives’ on Usk. This time the emphasis is on simplicity. Myers claims that ‘short pieces that are uncompromising in substance and style, without making virtuoso demands on the player, have become increasingly scarce.’ The idea was to reflect the concert-music style of the composers at an undemanding technical level. The whole project, which was launched live in London, has had the backing of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. This is altogether an admirable venture, although easy short piano pieces from twentieth-century composers are not as rare as might appear – such works by Stravinsky, Bartok and Hindemith are well known (or ought to be) and there are also fine (unknown) examples from Satie, Copland and Billy Mayerl. Further, there have been regular efforts by various publishers commissioning living composers. But this is more comprehensive with 50 pieces – yet only five by women?
One severe test is whether the composers, with reduced means, can still sound like themselves – as the earlier composers above do – or whether the pervasive aura of Messiaen’s piano style takes over. With the two sets of pieces, the second easier than the first, we can take two indicators for most of those composers represented.
Both pieces by Philip Cashian have an evocative atmosphere. Finnissy’s Yvaropera 5 is based on characteristic liquid textures and a static ending: then he manages a Tango. Fitkin is consistently melodic in an attractive way. Harvey has immediate profile in the alternating smacked clusters and hectic bass activity of his longer piece, simply called ff, and his shorter one is a single upwards gesture lasting a mere 30 seconds.
There are a number of personal tributes. Gabriel Jackson’s Memorial Blues is poetic but not very bluesy; Jeremy Dale Roberts provides another elegy and there’s a Dark March from Hoddinott. Stephen Montague’s Mira, at over six minutes, is the longest piece of all. Like his Piano Concerto, it reflects the contrasted piano styles of Henry Cowell.
Anthony Payne is represented by an energetic Song Without End and an ingeniously compressed
The minimalists are – or should be – expert at getting the most out of very little. So the contribution of John Tavener is crucial. His Zodiacs is simply a 12-note row, based on the circle of fifths, repeated and slightly transformed with a halo of sustaining pedal. It works, and so do the inspired simplicities of Howard Skempton, like some latter-day Satie. David Bedford also has his own territory. Altogether a fascinating anthology, with fine performances and recording. But there should have been some notes, if only to explain the titles of the individual pieces.