RICHARD DOVE savours the sounds of Ed Hughes and Airat Ichmouratov
On a couple of occasions, I have cycled across the South Downs, and even managed (once) the slow climb up Ditchling Beacon. I should have had Ed Hughes’ music to accompany me. It would have made a wonderful bike ride even more special.
His Music for the South Downs is a recent release on the Metier label and part funded, in a most enlightened way, by the South Downs National Park Authority. The music embraces the rolling landscape and its endless natural variety. We can be in open fields and wooded valleys, beside fresh bright streams and rolling waves. The music is both evocative and grounded in this verdant environment. Listening to Flint Movement 2 on a dull and rainy afternoon, I was transported to a forest watching the sunbeams dance through the leaves – and then in the next movement I am on the bank of a fast-flowing stream. Such is the magical power of Ed Hughes’ music.
It was composed for Sam Moore’s film, South Downs: A Celebration, to mark the National Park’s tenth anniversary, and is played by the New Music Players, founded by Hughes and the Primrose Piano Quartet. Ed is professor of composition at the University of Sussex and is very obviously steeped in the South Downs landscape. He has walked the paths that he now portrays in this music. I will ensure that Hughes’ music is with me when I next tackle the South Downs trails. He might even encourage me to ascend effortlessly up Ditchling Beacon. And that takes some doing.
On a first listen to Airat Ichmouratov’s Piano Concerto (a recent release on Chandos) I could not get Tchaikovsky out of my mind. He is clearly an influence on Ichmouratov. The notes to the CD underline my first impression in a description of piano, woodwinds and glockenspiel engaging in a Tchaikovskian exchange of scurrying semiquavers. Indeed, the use of percussion throughout the work to punctuate, embellish and encourage is consistently surprising.
In the Viola Concerto, also on the CD, Ichmouratov brings in tubular bells to build the rousing climax before closing with the melancholic tones of a clarinet. Both works are masterfully played by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer. Ichmouratov is guided by tonality and romantic traditions in his exuberant music coupled with a very original sense of drama. The soloist in the Viola concerto No 1 is Elvira Misbakhova who wanted something new and challenging for her doctoral performance at the University of Montreal. She certainly got it.
For the Piano concerto, Jean-Philippe Sylvestre is the soloist and it needs all the energy of this “poet of the piano” (as described by conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin) to take on this demanding Concerto where the piano is rarely silent for more than a few bars. In the words of Airat Ichmouratov: “When I compose I hear a certain tonality and simply follow what I hear. Sometimes I end up with surprising key relations.” Quite true and well worth an absorbing listen.
RICHARD DOVE writes from Kent