Robert Saxton - Piano Music
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Label: Toccata Classics
Cat No: TOCC0458
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 2nd March 2018
WorksChacony for piano left hand
Hortus Musicae: Book 1
Hortus Musicae: Book 2
Lullaby for Rosa
ArtistsClare Hammond (piano)
Hailed as a pianist of ‘amazing power and panache’ (The Daily Telegraph), Clare Hammond is recognised for the virtuosity and authority of her performances and has developed a ‘reputation for brilliantly imaginative concert programmes’ (BBC Music Magazine, ‘Rising Star’). In 2016, she won the ‘Young Artist Award’ of the Royal Philharmonic Society in recognition of outstanding achievements. She is a champion of modern repertoire: this is her sixth album of music by a living composer, and she has given 35 world premieres to date. Clare completed a BA at Cambridge University, where she obtained a double first in music, and undertook postgraduate study with Ronan O’Hora at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
1Chacony for Piano Left Hand (1988)
2Sonata for Piano (1981)
3Hortus Musicae Book 1 (2013) - I. Hortus Somniorum
4Hortus Musicae Book 1 (2013) - II. Hortus Temporis
5Hortus Musicae Book 1 (2013) - III. Hortus Cantus
6Hortus Musicae Book 1 (2013) - IV. Hortus Infinitatis
7Hortus Musicae Book 1 (2013) - V. Saltatio Hortensis
8Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - I. The Flowers appear on the Earth
9Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - II. Light on the Water Garden
10Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - III. The Garden of Changing Perspective
11Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - IV. Beech Bank (a la recherche)...
12Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - V. Light on the Hedgerows
13Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - VI. The Garden at Dusk
14Hortus Musicae Book 2 (2015) - VII. Hortus Animae Alis Fugacis
15Lullaby for Rosa (2016)
Among the key elements of Saxton’s musical style are its clearly graspable, goal-oriented formal structure; a tonal/harmonic background (often around a single pitch), with more or less complex middleground and foreground (surface), and shifting perspectives; a penchant for bell-like sonorities; and dance-like qualities, often as an expression of Saxton’s Jewish roots. His music combines formal and technical rigour with an imaginative and engaging soundworld, while encompassing a gradual stylistic shift towards more outwardly tonal surfaces.
Pianist Clare Hammond has a close relationship with Saxton’s music. Her disc opens with the Chacony for Piano Left Hand (1988), the work with which she first impressed the composer. It was originally commissioned by Oliver Knussen for Leon Fleisher (who at that time had lost the use of his right hand), and here it receives a radiant performance, making light of its formidable technical demands with playing that combines purpose and animation.
The main works on the disc are the Sonata for Piano (1981) and the two books of Hortus Musicae (2013 / 2015). The Sonata is gesturally similar to the Chacony, but is formally more ambitious. Cast in a single movement, it recalls the background influence of both Berg and Bartók, and is every bit as compelling in this exceptionally assured account. Its 11-minute span seems not a moment too long, and (like all good sonatas) it seems to capture a whole world in miniature, building to a memorable close.
Hammond herself is the dedicatee of the Hortus Musicae (‘Garden of Music’), and her readings carry a special authority. The five movements of the first Book feel more akin to studies, and they successively explore dreams, time, singing, infinity and dance. Particularly striking are the insistent repeated tone that frames ‘Hortus Temporis’, the meditative mood of ‘Hortus Infinitatis’, and the ecstatic feel of ‘Saltatio Hortensis’. Book 2 comprises seven movements (the twelve movements of the two books are organised around the twelve tones of the chromatic scale), and they seem to have a more discursive, narrative feel about them. Highlights include the luminous ‘Light on the Water Garden’, with its shimmering figuration, and ‘Beech Bank (à la recherche)...’, whose snatches of Haydn, Chopin and Donizetti are incorporated with a facility reminiscent of Saxton’s teacher Berio. The final movement is an unorthodox fugue whose title (which translates as ‘The Garden of the Swift-Winged Spirit’) suggests both flight and chase, its ending gradually receding from the listener.
Proceedings are brought to a close by the brief Lullaby for Rosa (2016), written as a ‘welcome’ gift for Hammond’s infant daughter. More conventionally tonal than the other works recorded here, it makes for a beguiling conclusion to a compelling disc, ideal as an introduction to Saxton’s multifaceted music, and all realised with commanding but unshowy aplomb by Clare Hammond and the Toccata Classics team. The detailed autobiographical and musical notes from Saxton himself are a considerable bonus.
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