Recording project

One of the main things I’m working on at the moment is a disc for Artists Recording Company. They gave me carte blanche on what repertoire I would record, so I had a lot of fun putting the programme together. My starting point was two previously unrecorded works, the first of which was Mark Simpson’s Barkham Fantasy. He wrote the piece for me in 2010 and I premiered it in the Royal Festival Hall that same year. I’ve played it lots since and it always gets a terrific response, and of course Mark’s composing career has gone from strength to strength recently. The other work was Marvin Wolfthal’s Lulu Fantasy, which I’d been itching to get my teeth into for a while (more details about that piece here). In terms of the rest of the repertoire, I wanted the disc to feel coherent without being too narrow; but at the same time, I wanted it to make sense as a programme heard from start to end, and for each individual piece to have some reason why it seemed right for me to record it.

After lots of thought and playing around with various ideas, a sense of balance emerged almost by chance – inspired by the palindromic Filmmusik of Berg’s Lulu, which is at the centre of Wolfthal’s Lulu Fantasy. Trying to expand upon the idea of symmetry in that work helped me decide which others of the many I was considering to record, and how to structure the programme:

Magnus Lindberg : Piano Jubilees [2000] Thomas Adès : Mazurkas, op.27 [2009] Tristan Murail : Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire (In memoriam Olivier Messiaen) [1992] Alban Berg / Marvin Wolfthal : Lulu Fantasy [2008] Toru Takemitsu : Rain Tree Sketch II (In memoriam Olivier Messiaen) [1992] Mark Simpson : Barkham Fantasy [2010] Luciano Berio : 6 Encores [1965, 1990]

I’ve been playing Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Jubilees on and off for quite a while, and more recently came to Berio’s 6 Encores. Both are groups of six shortish pieces; the Jubilees have a recurring fanfare motif, so seemed apt to begin a recital, and obviously Encores make sense at the end – so I put these two groups on the edges. To balance Mark’s evocative, dramatic Barkham Fantasy, I thought something else British but this time more poised and witty, and chose Thomas Adès’s Mazurkas. The key-stone to this arch was to be the Lulu Fantasy, and I decided to flank it with two slender pieces that would set this big, intense work in some relief: Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II, and Tristan Murail’s Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire – both of which were written as memorial tributes after Messiaen’s death in 1992.

All of these pieces relate in some way to the idea of life cycles. Lindberg’s Piano Jubilees began as a single ‘Jubilee’ written for Pierre Boulez’s 75th birthday celebrations, with the subsequent Jubilees being elaborations (offspring, I suppose) on material from that initial one. Mark wrote Barkham during a stay in the Devonshire moors during which he was convinced he saw ghosts, and this experience bore itself out in the paranoid-hysterical character of the music. The two Messiaen tributes relate to the commemoration of a great composer’s life. Lulu is nothing if not the story of a cycle – there is an inevitability about Lulu’s ascent and descent, culminating in her death – and Lulu Fantasy is a kind of reincarnation of the original opera. Similarly, Adès’s Mazurkas are like Chopin Mazurkas reborn. Two of Berio’s Encores were written in memory of pianists he knew, and the other four relate respectively to the elements (Earth, Water, Wind, Fire).

The recording sessions are in September and October, in Guildhall School’s brand new Milton Court Concert Hall, with a planned release date for the disc of January 2014.