Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Col legno
WORKS: Piano music (complete)
PERFORMER: Nicolas Hodges (piano)
The English composer Bill Hopkins died in 1981 at the age of 37, leaving behind a handful of pieces in a hyper-intense, angular, dissonant style, of which the Études en série is the biggest and most impressive. One’s first impression is of a nervy, pointilliste style not far from early Boulez, but these pieces soon reveal a peculiar anguished uncertainty, a kind of groping for musical sense, that is miles away from Boulez’s confident, brusque assertiveness. One of Hopkins’s mentors was Samuel Beckett, and his music has a similar tragi-comic awareness of the impossibility of expression – notes fail Hopkins, just as words kept failing Beckett (it could be the other way round, of course, and the booklet notes poignantly reveal that in the end, Hopkins thought the failure was indeed his own). These difficult pieces receive performances of the utmost commitment and sensitivity from Nicolas Hodges. He knows how to give an obscure tangle of notes a vivid, almost sculptural shape, and he knows exactly when to bring out the half-hidden rhymes, repetitions and parallelisms that hold the music together. The recorded sound is excellent; clear, but with enough warmth to bring out the music’s subtle use of lingering piano resonances. Ivan Hewett