Thursday, 17 August 2017

Jazz influence and stylistic virtuosity: Daryl Runswick's piano music

Daryl Runswick - dot music - prima facie
Daryl Runswick dot music, sonatina, Six Studies on b-o-u-l-e-z, Introduction and Fugue in B minor; Tony Hymas; prima facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 16 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A 70th birthday survey of Runswick's piano writing spanning 30 years

Recorded in 2016, this disc on prima facie provides something of a celebration of composer Daryl Runswick's 70th birthday (he was born in 1946). Pianist Tony Hymas performs four of Runswick's piano works which span almost 30 years of Runswick's music making and showcase the stylistic diversity of his art.

Hymas opens with the disc's title track, dot music, a 2000/2001 piece (revised 2013-2016) named for Runswick's music notation where he writes just the black dots on the stave (no stems, rests and bar-lines) and leaves the performer free to interpret/improvise based on the graphic distance between the notes (an interesting compromise between classic notation and a fully graphic score). In three movements, the first is a free flowing prelude marked Scherzando, the second spare yet lyrical with a sense of individual notes being placed, whilst the finale alternates spiky fast and rhythmic material with sparer sections.


Runswick's Sonatina from 1981 (revised 2003) combines an advanced jazz style with classical structure; something which Runswick, in his booklet not admit cost him much effort and heartache. So the opening movement is structure in sonata form, but with jazz-based material with quite a romantic feel. The middle movement is slow bluesy, spare at times and thoughtful, whilst the finale is a catchy jazz ballad.

Along with John Cage, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the Beatles and Joni Mitchell, Pierre Boulez was a great influence on Runswick and when Boulez died Runswick created a tone row from Boulez's name. In Six studies on b-o-u-l-e-z from 2016, Runswick uses this tone row in a variety of styles, referencing different types of modernism, along with hints of minimalism, as well as free jazz, improvisation and much else. The result is a dazzling series of stylistic preludes, in which neo-Boulez modernism shades into romanticism and much else, giving us a glimpse of the poly-stylistic nature of Runswick's art and the sheer bravura of his invention.

The final work on the disc is a work Runswick originally wrote for his composition portfolio as a student at Cambridge in 1967, here played in the 2003 revision, Introduction and  Fugue in B minor. It combines a four voiced fugue with the influence of jazz. It was the second fugue which Runswick had written, and he has never returned to the form since! The result, like the sonatina, is a remarkable combination of classical structure with jazz influences.

Throughout, Tony Hymas proves himself a deft interpreter of Runswick's different stylistic incarnations, playing with virtuosity and with style.

Daryl Runswick (born 1946) - dot music
Daryl Runswick - Sonatina
Daryl Runswick - Six studies on b-o-u-l-e-z
Daryl Runswick - Introduction and Fugue in B minor
Tony Hymas (piano)
Recorded at The Sign, Wales, 22-23 September & 15 November 2016
primafacie pfcd057 1CD [52.42]
Available from Amazon.

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