The first piece in this intriguing collection is entitled Changes for 20 nifty fingers and starting simply in typical minimalistic style with a small but rhythmic melodic figure, the music becomes ever more complex, building to an exciting climax. This very difficult music is superbly played by Steven Kings who is joined in this piece by the composer.
Toccata is a substantial, very modern-sounding piece characterised with Bartókian aggressiveness, Messiaen-like colours and rhythms and even Boulezian discord at times. Mostly ferocious in mood, even quieter passages are punctuated with stabbing single accented notes and dissonant chord clusters. In one moto perpetuo section there seems to be a reference to the last of Ginastera’s Three Argentinian Dances. But the piece has its own distinctive character and shape and I feel it is one of the more interesting pieces on this recording. It is played superbly with great clarity, variety of attack and articulation by Steven Kings.
Then follow the Seven Airs and Fantasias in a different mood altogether. These pieces are described in the programme notes as ‘intensely pleasant’, something you could not say about the foregoing music. I have never been a fan of minimalism, so much being tedious in the extreme, but these pieces are mostly short enough to maintain the interest as each has its own mood and musical ideas. The brevity of the pieces here helps us in to enjoy the colour achieved in the composer’s use of the vast tonal range and registers of the piano, for example in Clockwork 5/4. Fantasia 2 for prepared piano is fascinatingly and beautifully coloured. The fast and furious figuration builds to a grand climax when Westminster Chimes is heard, using the unprepared lower register of the keyboard. The kaleidoscope of colours in this extraordinary piece is very affecting and it provides a real contrast with the rest of the cycle.
I did find Parallel Octaves a little tedious with its constant if varied repetition, but Sarabande has an attractive melodic line and the music moves forward to a climax before returning to the simpler style of the opening. Fantasia 4: Wind Chimes is an evocative and immediately accessible piece and it seems like the central lynch pin of the Seven Airs and Fantasias. It is the most substantial piece of the set but maybe it takes a touch too long to reach its grand climax. The listener’s interest is mostly maintained though, especially when it is as well played as it is here by Steven Kings.
After this drama maybe we need some time to reflect and in the next piece, entitled Calmly contented we have permission to relax for a while. Cantabile mist is also very calming and is indeed very pleasant and easy on the ear. The final Fantasia of the set All in a chord is attractive with the chord’s constantly changing notes and dynamics. Eventually a simple melody is heard in various registers of the piano and this piece forms a fine conclusion to the cycle.
I should add that some of the pieces could well be used for pedagogical purposes and they could be of interest to students of an intermediate to advanced standard.
The final piece Are you going makes for a grand climax to this recording. It is an amazingly complex and virtuosic tour de force for three pianists, in which the melody Scarborough Fair is pulled rhythmically around and surrounded by all manner of glittering colours. It must have taken much rehearsal to achieve the immaculate ensemble we can enjoy here, so congratulations to all three players.
Are you going for piano triet brings this fine recording of interesting and evocative music to an exciting conclusion. As usual with Hyperion it is well recorded and it is all well worth listening to.