Haflidi's Pictures. Mark Tanner, Piano
Priory PRCD 1018. 78:15
Premiere recordings of all works, in order of presentation:
Marvyn Burtch: Five Aphorisms (1989)
Colin Decio: The Musical Box Suite (Commissioned 2007)
Graham Firkin: Fyrbiture (1989)
Philip Martin: Prism (Commissioned 2007/8)
Philip Martin: Dubes: Hills of Wind-Blown Sand (Commissioned 2007)
Frederick Stockton: Bagatelle (Commissioned 2008)
John McLeod: Haflid's Picures: Twelve Aphorisms for Piano
Conversation between John McLeod and mark Tanner, July 21, 2008
These are very pianistic works, played with brilliant pianism. Two
things particularly distinguish the collection: (1) most of them were
recently commissioned by the pianist with performer input; and (2)
their sections are brief--these seven works by six composers consist
of thirty-three movements, varied in rhythm, tempo and dynamics. The
half-hour title work of the collection is also unusual, even unique, in
that, comparable to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (also written
originally for the piano), its twelve movements are inspired by pictures.
The artist is McLeod's friend and fellow-composer, Haflidi Hallgrimsson.
Twelve of his sketches, selected from fifty, are reproduced in the
booklet, following Mark Tanner's notes. In addition, inspired by the
music rather than directly by the pictures, the movements are introduced
by short poetic 'aphorisms' spoken by the composer.
McLeod's aphorisms are whimsical, even bizarre, and always entertaining.
I am not prepared to judge their aptness or say much about even the
connections between the pictures, aphorisms and music but no doubt this
could be a continuing source of reflection by interested individuals.
But the clearest reference to Mussorgsky comes in 'Witch on a Pedestal,'
when he is not only mentioned but a theme from his Pictures is quoted.
'Devil in a Cupboard' is peremptory, fast and sometimes tinkly. 'Tortured
by Noise' is of course not quiet or gentle but is not nearly as cacophonous
as it perhaps might be. 'Devil in a Cupboard' is peremptory and fast.
Several aphorisms are quiet, though 'Silence' is sounded and does not
endure for Cage's stipulated 4'33' that is mentioned. 'Winter Landscape'
is calm and quiet, with lovely, bell-like notes. 'Italian Huntsman'
is also quiet with some rapid arpeggios. 'Holy Man with Cross' is both
quiet and stately. 'To the Heart of the Matter' proposes simplicity and
quiet communion of lovers. 'Music on the Move' strives for extreme
tempos. Other aphorisms include 'A Fish Can Sing,' 'Snakes in a Garden'
and 'Fragments from a Picture.' McLeod is very much inclined to write
music that is virtuosic and achieves this. Tanner has no difficulty
meeting any of his demands.
The opening piece on this recording, Burch's 'Five Aphorisms,' which
take less than five minutes, might better have been placed later on the
disc. I at least found the opening aphorism very off-putting, even
though it lasts only 33 seconds. At the risk of finding myself in some
future 'Lexicon of Musical Invective, it suggested to me nothing so much
as a rude person coming into a formal reception to make some spontaneous,
jarring and raucous improvisation for his own amusement. Very staccato.
The following four aphorisms were in quite a different mode: slow and
limpid; Prokofievan; very fast and lively; jazzy.
Decio's Musical Box Suite, in four movements, is mostly quiet and peaceful.
Its third movement has vigor but even that is rather formal and conservative.
The first two movements struck me as plangent.
Fitkin's 'Furniture' is jazzy: very staccato and percussive. Tanner
calls it 'manic, jazz-rock inspired.,' and says it takes its energy from
'brazen cluster chords and daring leaps to the extreme registers of the
keyboard' and 'has a deliciously random ring too it that, thankfully,
is not clarified on repeated listening.'
Martin's 'Prism,' with seven varied movements in twelve minutes, including
some slow and pensive 'Blues'; two fast dances; 'Aria,' quiet and indeed
songlike; a reflective 'Pastorale'; a quiet 'Intermezzo', which happens
to be placed first; and 'On a Whim' which earns its name. Martin's
'Dunes - Hills of Wind-Blown Sand,' sounds the way its movements-- 'Hush,'
'Wilds' and 'Suspension' -promise. Wilds is lively and Suspension is
simple, slow, with some rests and arpeggios, and quiet to the end.
Stockton's brief 'Bagatelle' is marked by clarity of sound.
The concluding conversation between McLeod and Tanner is interesting
Copyright 2009 by R. James Tobin
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