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CD Review

Hywel Davies

Prima Facie 16

Chamber Music

  • Descent 1
  • End Canon 2
  • Cold in the Earth 3
  • Duo 1, 3, 6 4
  • Albumleaf 5
  • Piano Piece #14 5
  • Piano Piece #17 "Like a prelude" 5
  • Piano Piece #19 "Waltz-like" 5
  • Piano Piece #23 5
  • Variations 5
  • Sonatas in F Major 5
  • Bow flurry 6
  • Apostrophe 7
  • Nocturne 7
  • Apus apus, Part 2 8
1 Dan Carlson & David Walsh, violins; Sigrid Keunen, viola; Emma Ferrand, cello
2 Pavao Quartet
3 Emma Ferrand, Katrina Hunold, Will Martina & Becky Wenham, cellos
4 Linling Hsu, violin; Becky Wenham, cello
5 Adam Caird, piano
6 Martin Pyne, glockenspiel; Adam Caird, piano
7 Heledd Francis-Wright, flutes
8 London Flutes
Album, released 14 January 2013
Prima Facie PFCD016
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon France

Those of you familiar with the works of British composer and sonic artist Hywel Davies know the powerful musical images he evokes by "simply" putting together and exploring natural and instrumental sounds.

You may have an inkling what his new album holds in store for you, yet this appealing collection of neo-classical works infused with diverse musical styles and improvisation may come as a surprise to you.

When listening to the record, you will notice that Davies takes the experimentation a step further. He fuses elements from different musical genres and explores the possibilities of white-note, i.e. non-chromatic diatonic, and aleatoric music.

The result is a fine album of instrumental music written for strings, flutes, glockenspiel and piano. It contains 17 tracks that take you on an enthralling sonic journey, from neo-classical music into the realm of spheric harmonies.

Overall, the tone is calm, but the music occasionally drifts into rich and intense vibrancy. The excellent artists render the classically tinged pieces and the soothing ambient music with passion, yet a refreshing playfulness. They evoke a variety of mood and atmosphere and bring out beautifully the calming otherworldly quality of the music.

As a composer and sonic installation artist, Davies is no stranger to exploring and fusing sounds and genres – be it classical, jazzy or ambient – thus creating his own style and leaving his mark on the contemporary music scene. It is this mix of such a variety of styles that makes the album enthralling.

Classical elements can be found in several compositions. The well-rounded and flowing melody of Piano Piece #17, for instance, has a Chopinesque quality while Sonatas in F echoes the staccato style characteristic of Scarlatti's sonatas. The fugue-like theme in Variations rendered with great precision is reminiscent of Bach – it seems repetitive, but the changes in tempo and timing bring the piece to life.

The album also features jazzy and upbeat tracks like the Piano Piece #23 or ambient concert music like Bow flurry where the soft glockenspiel and piano evoke the image of snowflakes dancing and whirling through the air. In Apus Apus part II the flutes make you literally hear and see a swarm of swifts flying in the air, chirping and dashing forth and back.

White-note music is another of Davies' preoccupations, as several pieces reveal. In Descent or End Canon he explores the possibilities of white-note music and the range of moods evoked by having the performers play variations on a melody in different harmonies, at different tempos and dynamics. Those compositions are pleasant but tend to be rather repetitive, long-winded and appear to be lacking depth.

Although not all the tracks are well-rounded and fully developed, the album is an enticing collection of works offering music that conjures up both pleasant and dark images and atmospheres.

It may take you a while to get into Davies' ambient music and feel its soothing and relaxing effect, but it is worth a few listening sessions.

Copyright © 2013, Katalin Fekete

Trumpet