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Camden REEVES (b.1974)
Lucifer’s Dynamo and other works for solo piano
Das Hexenklavier (2006) [11:28]
Noturno dale fiamme dell’inferno (2005) [6:59]
Inventions & Fantasies (2002) [15:03]
Diablo Canyon (2006) [4:36]
Lucifer’s Dynamo (2005) [19:38]
Richard Casey (piano)
rec. Cosmo Rodewald Hall, The University of Manchester, August 2005 and August-September 2006.
CAMPION CAMEO 2070 [58:02]
Experience Classicsonline


Camden Reeves is a new name to me, but he has already a considerable track record as a composer. He has been Composer Fellow with the Hallé Orchestra, and has been a teacher at the University of Manchester since 2002. The works on this disc are partly the result of a collaboration with pianist Richard Casey, funded through a fellowship at that University through the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain.

The pieces have not been recorded chronologically, and the opening work Das Hexenklavier was premiered by Richard Casey in May 2006. This is an impressively consistent work, exploring the resonance of the piano through the harmonic series, and Scriabin-like chords and intervals. There is also a less musically obvious influence in the chromatic counterpoint of Sweelinck, but the titles of the three movements, Praeludium, Ricercare and Toccata are intended to pay homage to that composer. The drama of the title is reflected in the music, being a reference to ‘The Witch Hammer’ of 1484, a guide book for the detection, trial and punishment of necromancers.

If anything more intense and dramatic, the Notturno dale fiamme del’inferno has its origins in a quotation from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It shares some of its resonant sound-world with the previous work, and has a comparably short Praeludium as a gateway to the second movement, the true meat of the piece. This Ricercare is a strikingly complex contrapuntal piece, retaining a tonal heart and an essential approachability despite the considerable technical demands, both compositionally – for the listener – as well as for the performer.

Inventions and Fantasies is the earliest of the works on this disc, and is described by the composer as “something of a technical breakthrough” in his work at the time. There is a parallel development of two cycles in the piece, the Inventions being intense and concentrated explorations of limited materials. These seem to be more the founding style for the first two works on the CD. The Fantasies are freer, more improvisatory, and less bounded by the pulse of a strict tempo. All of these movements as individual ‘miniatures’ and the piece as a whole are a remarkable achievement, and it is easy enough to hear why the further development of Reeves’ music for piano became such a hot potato.

Diablo Canyon is subtitled ‘Toccata per motum perpetuum’, which goes a fair way towards answering any questions as to the nature of the piece. Composed specifically for this CD, the music rises from ‘thunderous ascending scales’. Diablo Canyon is a nuclear power plant in California which has to huge 1,100-megawatt generators, and the energy of the music aptly seizes and renders in some way audible this mass of electronic muscle.

Lucifer’s Dynamo extends the dialogue between strict and free music, and was indeed written as a companion work to Inventions & Fantasies. In this case there are three cycles consisting of six each of inventions, fantasies and canons. The canons are arranges in a series of progressively more ‘dissonant’ polyrhythmic ratios between the voices, reflecting Dante’s vision of hell as a series of ever-contracting concentric circles. The last three canons have the interesting concept of being continuously repeatable, but with a built-in infinite ongoing acceleration which prevents this happening “in our universe.” Indeed, the final canon is left to repeat until the performer is physically no longer able to keep going – a bit like that moment in Emerson Lake & Palmer’s live Karn Evil 9, which I’m sure you all must know.

In searching for references to other recent composers in this music, it is Gyorgy Ligeti’s name which was called to my mind the most. Both he and Reeves are interested in the intensity which results from a full exploration of limited musical materials, in scales and resonant harmonies, but without an over emphasis on the kind of serial approach which can become a limiting factor on the imagination. Despite the colourful titles, these pieces are ‘pure music’ and entirely abstract, despite a keen sense of the dramatic in terms of content and gesture. Reeves is clearly fascinated by the value of the harmonic series, but employs this in a manner which integrates these sonorities into the scales and progressions of the whole. Reeves’ voice is very striking and personal in this work for piano solo, and, while the pieces can be seen as an extension of the rich romantic world of Scriabin, they are surely a significant contribution to piano repertoire as a whole.

Dominy Clements


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