Gramophone

A fine début, with the many repertoire challenges within eloquently and skilfully met… One of numerous younger British pianist[s] focusing on 20th-century and contemporary repertoire, Philip Howard won first prize in the 2003 International Gaudeamus Interpreters’ Competition and plays to his strengths on this auspicious recorded début.

The overload of cellular motifs comprising Paul Whitty’s brief study leads precipitously into Max Wilson’s tribute to the American jazz pianist – its quiet, static centre offsetting the Nancarrowesque activity on either side. Xenakis is represented by Evryali, whose extremes of motion and dynamism are realized with a palpable sense of the underlying drama. Butterfly Dreaming, Paul Newland’s encapsulation of Zen riddles, links hands – over a century on – with Satie’s Rosicrucian period, though now with a greater sense of space between the notes.

Of the two longer items, that by Michael Finnisy – taken from his multi-part cycle The History of Photography in Sound – evokes the pioneering fast motion stills taken in the 1870s by Eadweard Muybridge, their visual subjectivity complemented by intense photographic self-portraits undertaken by Edvard Munch during the 1900s. In its overall design, it seems prolix and uncertain next to the effortlessly sustained follow-through of Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari. Named (‘inspired’ may be assuming too much) after the archival remains discovered at the site of two palaces in ancient Syria, this is a study in the imperceptively shifting patterns and recurring phrases familiar from Feldman’s final period; music of intense beauty which infers so much more than it actually states.

Sound is clear if a little airless, robbing the playing of its full dynamic range. Howard contributes the informative booklet notes. Taken as a whole, this striking if not entirely cohesive programme augurs well for Philip Howard’s future as a proponent of uncompromising piano music.

—Richard Whitehouse