Sunday 18 May 2014

Clare Hammond at the Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival

Clare Hammond, credit Julie Kim
Clare Hammond, credit Julie Kim
John Tavener, Andrew Keeling, John Metcalf, Adam Gorb, Tarik O'Regan: Clare Hammond: Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival at Penarth Pier Pavilion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Shorter works for contemporary piano performed by young British pianist

Penarth Pier Pavilion is a relatively new venue, a stylish new concert venue having been created in Penarth Pier as part of the 2013 renovations of the pier on the esplanade at Penarth (near Cardiff). This year's Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival has been making good use of the venue. For the festival's final visit to Penarth Pier Pavilion, on May 17, pianist Clare Hammond performed a programme of contemporary music for solo piano. Her programme consisted of a highly varied selection of generally short works, some written specifically for Hammond, including music by John Tavener, Andrew Keeling, John Metcalf, Adam Gorb, Tarik O'Regan, Peter Fribbins, Alan Mills and Robin Walker.

Penarth Pier Pavillion
Penarth Pier Pavillion
Hammond started with John Tavener's tiny Zodiacs (1997). It opened with a simple bell-like motif which Tavener managed to imbue with his usual fascination. The middle section repeated the same motif, but at a far faster speed, creating a rather attractive moment, before the opening returned.

Composer Andrew Keeling has a varied background, working both in contemporary classical and in rock. His Coniunctio (2013) was written for Clare Hammond and was receiving its world premiere performance.

In the piece Keeling examined the alchemical ideas of the mystical union of King and Queen / Sol and Luna. To this end, Keeling took a piece of plainchant (A Solis Ortus Cardine) and subjected it to a variety of his own transformations, merging it with his own material. The work was in seven movements, each with their own alchemical point. But I have to confess that, from first off I failed to make Keeling's descriptions tie up with what I was hearing and that I simply sat back and let the music flow. Perhaps it might have been illuminating to hear the plainchant unadorned before the piece started?

After a dramatic start, the music remained highly characterful with some magical moments. The various movements caputured a series of moods, there was quite a romantic sensibility to it but toughness as well. There was also some terrific playing from Hammond, who captured the piece brilliantly and dazzled with the more bravura passages.

Endless Song (1999) by the festival's artistic director, John Metcalf, was a flowing and elegantly lyrical piece. The basic melodic idea was quite romantic in feel, and Metcalf proceeded to vary it endlessly, keeping a feeling of constant flowing onward. Endlessly fascinating though the piece was, Metcalf wisely avoided the big gesture and kept it to a refined sensibility.

Adam Gorb is the Head of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music. Hammond premiered his Velocity last week, so that we heard the work's second performance. The work started as an interrupted toccata, with Hammond contributing some brilliant, crisp playing. As the work continued, and the pulse got even faster, the toccata ceased to be interrupted, and Hammond brought out quite a hard edge to the music, and she certainly dazzled with the sheer virtuosity of her playing.

Tarik O'Regan is one of the festival's featured composers this year. His Lines of Desire (2005) was a short, quite romantic piece which let the music flow where it wished to, with O'Regan bringing a naturally contemplative feel to the gradually evolving melodic ideas.

O'Regan's Three Piano Miniatures (1999) could hardly be different as each movement arose from the strict manipulation of the same tone-row. The results were surprisingly characterful and dramatic. Whilst not strictly melodic, the pieces were highly involving in terms of content and form.

In 2012 the Two Rivers Festival commissioned a group of piano pieces to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy. Each of the five composers wrote a short piano piece which had a link to Debussy's music. Hammond played three of these Aquarelles (2012), L'extase de jets d'eau by Peter Fribbins, Narcissus by Alan Mills and Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep by Robin Walker. L'extase de jets d'eau had a busy, flowing yet transparent texture which rippled and flowed, as if we were hearing the music refracted through flowing water. Hidden deep in the texture was Debussy's song Claire de Lune. Narcissus evoked Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau and invoked the story of Narcissus. A calm, gently rippling texture was placed agains slower moving phrases above and below, as if we were seeing Narcissus and his reflection in the water. Finally Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep evoked La Mer but here depicting the North Sea. Starting with a dark rocking figure deep in the piano, the consistently moving, dark texture had distinct hints of Debussy with in. You sensed the sea growing as the music moved up the piano, flowing and dramatic until finally it all subsided.

Hammond's programme was an imaginative collection of shorter contemporary pieces for piano, each one played with character, style and not a little bravura, her stylish playing matched by a very stylish dress. There was a good audience who were certainly knowledgeable and appreciative.
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