BRIAN FERNEYHOUGH (b.1943): Complete Piano Music 1965-2018 - Invention, Epigrams, 3 Pieces, Lemma-Icon-Epigram, Opus Contra Naturam, Quirl, El Rey de Calabria, Sonata for 2 Pianos.
Catalogue Number: 04W051
Reference: MSV 28615
Description: The entirety of Ferneyhough's comparatively sparse output for piano is presented in this valuable set. Ferneyhough is well known as a major pioneer in the "new complexity" school of the avant-garde, but this chronological survey of his piano music, restricted to the chromatic scale and in the number of performers, unlike his much larger output for various ensembles, sheds useful light on the emergence and utilisation of the structural concerns which far more than complexity as an end in itself, are the fundamental reason why he writes as he does. The early pieces, including the composer’s first acknowledged piano piece, the unpublished Invention, are part of the series of "small-scale ‘autodidactic projects’" that Ferneyhough wrote in the early 1960s. Another composer would probably have called these "Études". Each of the Epigrams explores a different structural parameter, clearly apparent to the listener. It should also be noted that the primary difficulty of these early pieces is of precise learning and timing of complex rhythms, dynamic gradations and the interaction of atonal gestures, rather than sheer instrumental virtuosity. This is more than abundantly on display in Ferneyhough's most famous piano piece, the stunning Lemma-Icon-Epigram of 1981, in which the processes that grew out of European integral serialism are placed at the service of a poetic concept. In between, the Sonata (using the two-piano medium as a resource for complex rhythmic interchanges) and the Three Pieces are early exercises in integrating the expansion and elaboration of small cells into expressive structures - it is interesting, but less incongruous than it might at first appear, to find the composer describing the Sonata as an "eruptive and febrile discourse" as though it were a Romantic work! But clearly he thinks of his music in terms such as these. Opus contra naturam is part of Ferneyhough’s opera Shadowtime, in which it "is to be played by a Liberace-like figure or Joker and is to be accompanied by a silent film projection encompassing the chaotic intersection of scenes from fin-de-siècle Berlin cabaret, medieval labyrinths and images from the hyper-dissimulatory environment of present-day Las Vegas." It is, accordingly surreal, tumultuous and far freer in perceived form than the early works. Much more recent still, Quirl (a coil, curl or intricate entanglement) is a swirling study in fractal rhythms and complex figurations. Endearingly human in motivation, El Rey de Calabria was written in memory of the composer's three-legged cat, and comes from the world of Schönberg's early chromatic/atonal piano pieces - gently questioning and limned in precise gradations of colour. 2 CDs. Ian Pace (piano), Ben Smith (piano - sonata).