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Craig Armstrong: Nocturnes

Craig Armstrong (piano) (BMG/Modern)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
5053867119_Armstrong

Craig Armstrong
Nocturnes – Music for Two Pianos
Craig Armstrong (piano)
BMG/Modern 5053867119   44:09 mins

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From Chopin’s Nocturnes to Max Richter’s Sleep, composers have long been fascinated by the night. During the 2020 lockdowns, darkness took on a particular significance for Craig Armstrong as it became the only time he was able to work. All 14 Nocturnes on this recording were created during that period and are intended to comfort the listener – as they did the composer.

In her new book The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces, Susan Tomes writes in ‘Today’s piano styles’ that ‘the more popularly successful recent piano music has been concerned with evoking a peaceful, dreamlike state of “flow”.’ Armstrong’s Nocturnes certainly fit that description: the rippling, repetitive melodies (for example Nos 1, 4, and 6) are a world away from the contemporary pianism of, say, Thomas Adès or Harrison Birtwistle. But what sets Armstrong’s Nocturnes apart from comparative collections by Stephan Moccio (Tales of Solace has a similar premise) is the scoring for two pianos, which elevates its pop‑minimalism.

Of course, the timing of composition – a period when musical collaboration was intensely limited – also adds to the emotional impact of the self-recorded two-piano texture. There are moments of harmonic experimentation: the use of unisons and same range for both parts (eg. No. 5) occasionally produces some crunchy overtones (echoes of Julius Eastman’s ‘music for multiples’ and Glass’s works for two pianists). The rhythmic layering in the compact No. 9 works well. A recommended gateway recording for fans of traditional minimalism looking to explore post-classical styles.

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Claire Jackson