Harvey: Four Images after Yeats; Ritual Melodies; Mortuos plango, Vivos Voco; Tombeau de Messiaen

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COMPOSERS: Harvey
LABELS: Sargasso
WORKS: Four Images after Yeats; Ritual Melodies; Mortuos plango, Vivos Voco; Tombeau de Messiaen
PERFORMER: Philip Mead (piano); tape
CATALOGUE NO: SCD 28029 (distr. Impetus)
This enterprising disc brings together music by the British composer Jonathan Harvey, sixty this year, for piano and tape, separately and together. The oldest piece is the suite of Four Images after Yeats, the last and longest of which juxtaposes chunks of Bach, Mozart, Liszt and others: an unusual procedure both for Harvey and for 1969, but a convincing interpretation of Yeats’s dictum that past events must be ‘related and understood’. The newest work is the 1994 memorial to Olivier Messiaen, which combines the ‘live’ piano with transformed piano sounds on tape: the increasingly tumultuous textures suggest microtonal Conlon Nancarrow, and there is no hint of imitation of Messiaen himself until the piano’s last dying fall. Harvey’s masterly handling both of electronic transformations and of the upper reaches of the harmonic series is equally in evidence in the two tape-only pieces, the now classic Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco and the richly textured Ritual Melodies, remixed from their multi-channel originals to vivid stereo under the composer’s direction. With thrilling piano playing by Philip Mead, this is a valuable tribute to a composer who has always believed that effective musical communication involves not simplification, but the full use of all available means. Anthony Burton

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