Peter O'Hagan: Chasing Boundaries

Peter O&
Title: Chasing Boundaries
Label: CD Baby

The repertoire for this CD is drawn from a programme of contemporary British music presented at London's South Bank Centre in February 2009, and the sessions for the studio recording took place during the following week. Given the stylistic plurality of the contemporary musical scene, any attempt at a comprehensive survey would have been futile in the context of a single recital. Hence the design of the programme was the outcome of an attempt to identify some important features of British music of the last forty years, and to achieve a satisfactory balance between works in a variety of styles. In addition, my choice of works was influenced by a fascination with the interpretive process itself, and in particular with the relationship between performer and the musical text. It is a curious fact that whilst a reliable edition of the score and an awareness of the stylistic context are considered a sine qua non for interpreting the core repertoire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such concerns are often overlooked in approaching more recent music. Perhaps it is the sheer notational complexity of some contemporary music which can lead the performer into a mindset where literal realisation of a score's detail becomes synonymous with interpretation. Having performed Brian Ferneyhough's Lemma-Icon-Epigram on a number of occasions some years ago, on renewing acquaintance with it I was struck anew by the tension between on the one hand, the composer's fanatical pursuit of rhythmic precision, and on the other the apparent perversity of the numerous invitations to flexibility and interpretive freedom. It is almost as though the notation is designed as a series of obstacles which one must surmount in order to enter into the expressive world which lies at the heart of the piece. Ferneyhough himself has explained it in the following terms in an interview with Richard Toop: "...there is always a danger that a performance will fail almost completely, no matter how many notes are achieved, if it lacks that awareness of the almost erotic relationship between manual movement, density of notation, and constant awareness of the possibility of not achieving something..." In the case of Tippett's Third Sonata, the score presented problems of a different nature, since I had been aware for some time of unresolved textual issues in the printed edition. The opportunity to study the source material at the British Library enabled me to correct some inconsistencies in the published material and to establish a text as far as possible in accordance with the composer's original intentions. Such direct contact with the composer's calligraphy can yield more general interpretive insights, as in the case of the second variation of the slow movement, where the composer's original layout in open score emphasised the fundamentally linear concept of the writing in a way that is to some extent lost in the published score. The opportunity to work with a composer on his music is a great joy for any performer, and I am most grateful to Kenneth Hesketh and Alastair Greig for being so patient in answering my queries and so generous with their time. One was constantly reminded that a musical text, however detailed and scrupulous in it's notation, is by it's nature provisional, and forms only a starting point for entering the imaginative world of the composer. In the case of Notte Oscura, guided by Kenneth Hesketh, my perspective on the piece was much influenced by the sonorities and timbres of the orchestral version, completed shortly after the solo piano version on this recording. With regard to Allusions and Distillations I was able to work closely with Alastair Greig from an early stage in the compositional process, and was privileged to witness it's gradual evolution from two brief etudes (which eventually formed the first two pieces of the cycle) into an extended cycle of interrelated pieces with a wealth of literary and musical references.

1.1 Notte Oscura
1.2 Piano Sonata No. 3: Allegro
1.3 Piano Sonata No. 3: Lento
1.4 Piano Sonata No. 3: Allegro Energico
1.5 Lemma-Icon-Epigram
1.6 Allusions and Distillations: I. Prelude
1.7 Allusions and Distillations: II. Curve Dance
1.8 Allusions and Distillations: III. Fibrous Air
1.9 Allusions and Distillations: IV. Vier
1.10 Allusions and Distillations: V. Interlude
1.11 Allusions and Distillations: VI. Lullaby Obscured
1.12 Allusions and Distillations: VII. Stele
1.13 Allusions and Distillations: VIII. Unaccountable Intervals
1.14 Allusions and Distillations: IX. Soft Blue
1.15 Allusions and Distillations: X. Pluse Period
1.16 Allusions and Distillations: XI. of Stillness
1.17 Allusions and Distillations: XII. Postlude

Peter O'Hagan: Chasing Boundaries

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