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Autumnal: Chamber Music By Thomas Hyde

Hyde / Iuventus Quartet
Release Date: 04/09/2013 
Label:  Guild   Catalog #: 7389   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Thomas Hyde
Performer:  Katherine JenkinsonRuth PotterEdward VandersparCatriona Scott,   ... 
Conductor:  John Traill
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aquinas Piano TrioIuventus Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HYDE Three Dancers. 1 Autumnal 2,3. Nocturnes. 4 Second Suite for Solo Cello 3. Birthday Song. 5 Winter Music 3,6. String Quartet 5 1 Aquinas Pn Tr; 2 Read more class="ARIAL12">Edward Vanderspar (va); 2 Eliza Marshall (fl, alto flute); 2 Catriona Scott (cl); 2 Ruth Potter (hp); 3 Katherine Jenkinson (vc); 2 John Traill, cond; 4 Evelina Puzaite (pn); 5 Iuventus Qrt; 6 Martin Cousin (pn) GUILD 7389 (74:27)

Thomas Hyde, the notes tell us, was born in London in 1978, educated there and at Oxford, and following composition lessons with David Matthews he took graduate courses at the Royal Academy of Music with Simon Bainbridge. He later returned to Oxford to study with Robert Saxton and earned a doctorate in 2008, so he is certainly full of academic degrees and the like to mark him as a Real Composer.

This CD, titled Autumnal, opens with Three Dancers which was written in 2005 as a “curtain raiser” for the Rautio Piano Trio. Hyde states that the title was inspired by Picasso’s famous painting La danse , from which he tried to capture in music the “artificiality in terms of both the construction and the representation of the bodies.” I found the music to be written in a typically British post-Britten style, meaning an employment of both quirky melodies and bitonal harmonies, although—as Hyde points out—“the form is deliberately ‘artificial’ with odd pauses and hiatuses.”

Autumnal, a concertino for viola and four instruments (flute, clarinet, harp, and cello), juxtaposes lyrical passacaglias with quirky rhythms, i.e., the 5/4 figure generally played by the harp. As Hyde points out, despite the steady pulse, the harmonic shifts constantly push forward and pull back. I was struck by the completely organic flow of the music, despite the technical devices used, and his very clever use of the solo instruments as if they were little orchestral sections. (In a way, it reminded me of the similar use of solo or duo instruments as sections in the work of several jazz composers, ranging from Morton to Mingus.) Moreover, if one were not told of the 5/4 meter one would certainly not hear it; the music sounds as if it were constantly shifting tempo and pulse, much like Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. At times, the clarinet and flute (sometimes alto flute) interact with the solo viola in such a way that the latter instrument also sounds as if it is being used as a “string section.” Indeed, Hyde’s constantly shifting use of the instruments—now soloists, now a quintet, now an orchestra—keeps the listener fully engaged and, to a certain extent, off balance, because the colors and textures shift as often as the harmonies and rhythmic accents. And, despite its being inspired by the colors of autumn leaves in New England, the music has a restless quality in which its very fragmentation somehow magically coalesces into a cohesive shape.

Hyde admits that when he was asked to write nocturnes for solo piano his heart sank, since the piano is his own instrument and he finds it “difficult to compose for,” but the thought of night music set him in the direction of music that begins in glittering fragments of a night with much light in it (whether artificially created or stars), yet becomes progressively calmer. Structurally, they owe little or nothing to other piano nocturnes (Chopin or Debussy), but are, rather, imaginative pieces with an ostinato rhythm and complex harmonic movement. One will never confuse the second movement, titled “Two-part Invention,” for any of Bach’s works by that name. Its restless rhythmic pulse, generally relaxed but with several Luftpausen and outbursts on the keyboard, mitigate against this. Likewise, Hyde’s Second Suite for Solo Cello owes nothing in terms of form or structure to the similar works of Bach; rather, the music flows like a river through its six movements and two “interludes,” played continuously and using interrelated thematic bits and pieces from start to finish. Once again, I found Hyde’s use of pauses quite interesting. He is one composer who seems to understand the “use” of silence as a building-block of music rather than as a mere resting-point before proceeding along. Cellist Katherine Jenkinson’s tone is full and mellow but a little bland, at least through the opening pages of the suite, but this slightly diffuse timbre works very well with the music. Unfortunately, I felt that this piece went on far too long. I was ready for it to end about five minutes before it did.

The very brief (2:24) Birthday Song, the composer informs us, was a 12-tone piece he wrote for his string quartet that simply didn’t fit in, thus he reworked it as a gift for his friend Evie McDonald’s 18th birthday. Curiously, I found the work consistently melodic, using the 12-tone row over a lush harmonic base, yet as it progressed I felt that it had less and less connection to anything that could be titled a “birthday song.”

Winter Music, commissioned by Music Past & Present for English horn and piano, was adapted for the cello at Jenkinson’s request. Hyde informs us that it is a “paraphrase on a short song I had written, a setting of a little poem by Kathleen Raine, called ‘Living Presences.’” A transcription of the complete song is heard in Winter Music ’s coda when the tonality reached D?. There is a persistently melancholy feel to this music, in which the occasional rolling of piano arpeggios—some in the bass, and some high up in the treble—seem to act as coloration and filler rather than as a genuine accompaniment in the strict sense of the term. As the piece goes on, however, it becomes louder and more agitated, and here the piano contributes chords and sprinkled notes that sound like shards and splinters.

This disc ends with the string quartet, written in 2009-10. It begins in turmoil, with a bitonal chord from which emerges music of uncertain rhythm as well as tonality. Hyde attributes its “stormy” nature to a line from Horace: “Wherever the storm carries me, I land as a guest.” The polyphonic and harmonic density of the music—one may also describe it as “turgid”—continues throughout this movement until the solo violin melody in the coda. The second movement, taken from the quote “Neither yes nor no rings clearly in my heart,” also begins in a bleak mood, using a 12-tone melody that Hyde explains “is subjected to various inversions and transpositions.” Here, however, the bleakness is also conditioned by the extremely slow tempo, which comes to a full stop before picking up on a new idea and different rhythmic direction. Yet in this piece, too, I felt that the music began to wear out its welcome, being only intermittently interesting.

All of the performers on this disc are quite fine, as by and large is the music. Despite my reservations, I commend it to your attention as the work of a young composer with some good musical ideas.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Three Dancers, Op.11a by Thomas Hyde
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aquinas Piano Trio
Autumnal, Op.5 by Thomas Hyde
Performer:  Katherine Jenkinson (Cello), Ruth Potter (Harp), Edward Vanderspar (Viola),
Catriona Scott (Clarinet), Eliza Marshall (Alto Flute)
Conductor:  John Traill
Nocturnes, Op.7 by Thomas Hyde
Performer:  Evelina Puzaite (Piano)
Suite no 2 for solo Cello, Op.3 by Thomas Hyde
Performer:  Katherine Jenkinson (Cello)
Birthday Song by Thomas Hyde
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iuventus Quartet
Winter Music, Op.6 by Thomas Hyde
Performer:  Katherine Jenkinson (Cello), Martin Cousin (Piano)
Quartet for Strings, Op.10 by Thomas Hyde
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Iuventus Quartet

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