This album presents the complete works of Bernard Hughes for solo piano, an eclectic collection covering a period of over 30 years. The oldest piece dates back to his teenage years and the most recent is a brand new suite, Partita Contrafacta, a quirky take on traditional Baroque dance forms, commissioned by pianist Matthew Mills, who performs all the music on the disc. The rest of the music ranges from the large-scale Strettos and Striations to little occasional pieces written for the composer’s children. With such a varied range of music, there is something for everyone on this disc.
By his own admission, Bernard Hughes does not have a single musical style and this album reflects Hughes’ varied, wide-ranging approach – from music written for early piano students to complex, virtuosic works, fleeting miniatures to ferocious, post-minimalist studies.
The piano music of Bernard Hughes: Matthew Mills plays ‘Footprints’
Some of the most touching and intimate pieces are those written for the composer’s children. Song of the Walnut and Song of the Button, for example, were written when his son and daughter respectively were still in utero – tender, melodic pieces, the first a tiny lied, the second an uplifting hymn-without-words.
The Partita Contrafacta (literally “Counterfeit Partita”) obviously takes its inspiration from the Baroque suite – each movement has a single “affect”, in this instance, a series of dances, from Boogie-Woogie to Bolero, replace the traditional partita dance movements. The entire suite has a suitably Baroque grandeur, while the individual movements are distinctive, witty and highly inventive.
The Bagatelles, written in the late 1990s and early 2000s, offer a mix of styles, textures and technical challenges. Some are ridiculously tricky parodies of the studies of Czerny, others draw on existing works by Debussy, Schubert (listen out for references to the Allegretto in c minor D915) and Field (Nocturne). All are replete with expression, colour and variety. The Three Studies, in contrast, explore minimalism and the composer’s desire to engage with “a pianism shorn of romantic excess” (Bernard Hughes).
The Miniatures, written for early piano students, up to Grade 5, are similarly varied, attractive and tonal. It is clear that the composer has taken the trouble to write music which is appealing, challenging within the scope of the player’s ability, and replete with enjoyable melodies, and piquant rhythms and harmonies.
Overall, this is a most enjoyable and interesting album offering the listener insight into the breadth and variety of Bernard Hughes’s compositional output and his kaleidoscopic musical personality.
But perhaps what makes this album truly special is the culmination of many years of collaboration between Bernard Hughes and pianist Matthew Mills, who commissioned and premiered Partita Contrafacta on the disc. The two musicians have been working together for years, resulting in a deep understanding of each other’s artistic vision and an unparalleled ability to bring Hughes’ compositions to life on the piano, which he does masterfully with colour and vigour, humour and warmth.
Bernard Hughes: O du Liebe meiner Liebe (William Howard, piano)
BAGATELLES is released on the Divine Art Records label.
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