Until very recently, recordings of Kenneth Hesketh’s
music were disappointingly thin on the ground. Encouragingly, however,
this impressive survey of five of his pivotal works for orchestra and
large ensemble comes hot on the heels of another Hesketh CD. The latter
is fine recording showcasing several of the Liverpudlian’s most
significant chamber works played by Psappha.
Now aged 44, Hesketh has been creatively active across many genres but
it is his instrumental works that display his talent at its most striking.
The considerable surface complexity of his elaborate rhythmic invention
is unfailingly refracted through a remarkably acute ear for sonority
and colour allied with an obsessive preoccupation with textural transparency.
To a greater or lesser degree these are factors present in all five
of these compelling works. Also evident is a gradual refinement and honing
of these skills, from At God speeded summer’s end
, the earliest
piece dating from 2000, to Wunderkammer (konzert)
of 2008, which
reaches new levels of intricacy and represents the pinnacle of
Hesketh’s instrumental output to date.
Written for the BBC Philharmonic, there are fleeting glimpses of
Oliver Knussen discernible in the opening bars of the Dylan Thomas-inspired
At God speeded summer’s end
. Taking as its starting
point Thomas’s Prologue
(Collected Poems 1934-1953) in which
the second verse of the poem rhymes backwards with the first, Hesketh
creates a dramatic, predominantly fast-paced orchestral soundscape. Here the
structure of the poem is subjected to a musical reworking in which words are
sometimes quite literally set in instrumental terms. The principal melodic
and rhythmic ideas are constantly transformed in an ever evolving and
shifting orchestral backdrop.
In not dissimilar fashion, A Rhyme for the Season
on the composer’s fascination with the parallels between the metrical
complexities and syntax of the poetic spoken word and the rhythmic language
The origins of the word ‘rhyme’, derived from the
ancient Frankish word ‘rim’, provide the inspiration for a
fleeting, extrovert showpiece. Constantly mutating rhythmic motifs are
tossed around the orchestra in an exhilarating, texturally vertiginous
showpiece, the sheer drive of which only falters in the last bars as the
orchestral machine suddenly and unexpectedly stutters to a percussive halt.
Ein Lichtspiel (after Moholy-Nagy),
one of two works for
large chamber forces on the recording, is a musical exploration of a short
film (translated as Lightplay, black-white-grey
) by the
Hungarian constructivist artist Moholy-Nagy, a professor at the Bauhaus
Here the subject is the recorded changes in light and movement
created by a motor driven, kinetic sculpture of the artist’s own
design and these form the basis for his material. This constructivist
concept is a gift for a composer of Hesketh’s sharply defined
colouristic imagination. Each of the three continuous sections -
differing facets of music that teems with restless, coruscating detail.
At just short of twenty-two minutes, the longest work is also the
piece that leaves the most powerful and thought-provoking impression. It is
also the toughest of the five to access in full on first hearing.
is in essence a highly virtuosic
chamber concerto drawing on a wide range of external influences. These
include the concept of the Wunderkammer, a Pandora’s Box of material
curiosities, memory theatre and memento mori
. Hesketh takes these as
a basis for his seething, constantly mutating thematic material.
What intrigues most about this work is the sense of a deeply
personal undercurrent at play throughout. It is an undercurrent that is
often expressed in music of extreme gestural complexity, simultaneously
co-existing with a vein of profound expression that underpins what is
arguably the composer’s most emotionally ambitious work to date.
Hinting strongly at an autobiographical subtext the composer
confronts both his own mortality and at the same time bares his innermost
soul to scrutiny. Each of the three continuous movements carries a
significant title, The Grand Ordo of Hephaestus’ Children
Karakuri in the Temple of Athene
and Escapements within the
. Elements of thematic and gestural conflict and
resolution are ever-present in music that weaves a deeply embedded
, written for the 2008 Proms, shares several of
the same structural and aesthetic preoccupations of Wunderkammer
its exploration of differing facets of the words ‘graven’ and
‘image’, along with symbols associated with the memento
. Here however there is a greater emphasis on openly coalescing
From an opening of ghostly, crepuscular textures embellished with
tolling bells, the material ultimately transforms into a swirling, driven
mass of orchestral energy. This serves as potent testimony to the
composer’s aforementioned ear for beguiling, carefully honed
orchestral colour and transparency.
All five works are given intensely committed advocacy from the RLPO
under the young Swiss conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller. The excellent
Ensemble 10/10 directed by American émigré Clark Rundell are
no less skilled. The latter bring penetrating sincerity to Wunderkammer
, a work that presents the individual players with daunting
musical and technical challenges.
The outcome represents a compelling panorama of Kenneth
Hesketh’s works for major instrumental forces.