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 Post subject: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Fri Apr 06, 2012 6:46 pm 
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Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Pianist and composer Stephen Hough (b. 1961) published his piano sonata ”Broken Branches” in 2011. It consists of sixteen ”small, inconclusive sections ... not of saplings existing comfortably in their own space – but branches from a single tree.”

I would appreciate any reactions you may have on my take of the first six branches. I hope to complete the sonata but that may take some time.

Joachim

1. Prelude (Autumn)
2. (1:57) desolato
3. (3:07) fragile
4. (4:01) inquieto
5. (4:50) piangendo
6. (5:30) immenso


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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:54 pm 
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:?: I was really left wanting after hearing this work of Hough's. While no 2 was playing, I was thinking, "Is this attempting to be like the "Night Music" of Bartok, found as no.4 of his Out of Doors suite?" If so, it just doesn't cut it. Maybe it's just my mood, but this music does nothing for me. The best part are the titles alone, but the whole idea of distinct branches from the same tree is peculiar, as well as anything of vital interest from "Broken Branches." I think that Debussy did a relatively fantastic job in dedicating an entire prelude to "Dead Leaves." In fact, I think titles are very important and the fact that Mr. Hough writes a Sonata for Piano with 16 small tidbits is most odd. It would instantly be more successful IMO by calling it "Meditations for Piano" or "Preludes for Piano on Broken Branches", etc. Generally, I'm one to appreciate modern and contemporary music, though I admit that I have never gone for the minimalist stuff, but this fails to capture my attention or imagination. As to your performance Joachim, I can hear no reason why you would not have given a faithful rendition of the score (are you sure that in no 1 you observed the correct clefs? :wink: ) Maybe others will feel differently.

Eddy

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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Fri Apr 06, 2012 10:19 pm 
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Very interesting to see some compositions of Stephen Hough, an artist I consider almost the equal of Hamelin as a composer and virtuoso pianist. Having heard some Hough's delectable compositions and transcriptions, I must say I had expected more of this. Some fascinating sororities and intriguing ideas, but taken in sequence these seem rather too dour and ruminative. Indeed strange he would call this a "Sonata". I hear no attempt to imitate Bartok here, but somehow it reminds me of Janacek's On an Overgrown Path - without being as luminous and appealing as that cycle.

But I think you make the most of these Joachim, IMO it's an excellent and committed performance. And I like it much when people manage to find some repertoire off the beaten track :) Will you record all of this work ?

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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Sat Apr 07, 2012 4:04 am 
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I was fortunate to hear Hough play this live in concert last year. It's elusive music, very much dependent on variety of tone colour to make it effective--a difficult work to bring off in performance. It's probably even harder to make it work in a recording, where any unevenness of tone is even more obvious. Hough's own performance was of course very convincing.

It's great to see new works such as this appearing on the site.

musical-md wrote:
I think titles are very important and the fact that Mr. Hough writes a Sonata for Piano with 16 small tidbits is most odd.

The concert in which he performed it was a collection of unconventional sonatas: Moonlight, Liszt B minor and Scriabin 5. He's reminding us that the word "sonata" now has a much broader meaning than it did for Mozart and Haydn.

musical-md wrote:
(are you sure that in no 1 you observed the correct clefs?)

Yes, I have a score here and it's all correct.

techneut wrote:
somehow it reminds me of Janacek's On an Overgrown Path - without being as luminous...


"Luminous" is a good word for this. It's a quality that was present in Hough's performance, and this recording could use more of it.

Mostly it's to do with voicing (see Eddy's other thread on this subject!) and independence of hands. The music is deceptively simple in terms of not having too many notes (and the layout of the score is very attractive: there's a lot of space on the page and it looks very clean). But there's a wealth of detail in the dynamic markings. Some nuances of tone are up to the performer's imagination, but quite a lot is notated.

For example: at the very beginning, the LH is marked "sempre p" while the RH is mp with some hairpins: the RH should rise and fall with the phrases while the LH stays more in the background. At bar 13 (00:52 in this recording), what starts out as the lower voice of the RH is written in small notes with the marking "pp sempre", while the upper voice is normal size and mp. So the lower voice is just the "ghost" of the opening, while the upper voice sounds quite different--and then we should be able to hear clearly when the two voices cross. The last note of the prelude (1:51) has the top note marked forte but the lower note only mp.

If you can bring out all of these details (not at all easy to do!) then the music becomes much richer and more captivating.

I won't go through the rest of the score in such detail. I'll just comment that for the piano used in this recording, in passages such as the high octaves in the "immenso" movement (6:19 onwards) you'll get a better, fuller sound if you make the lower note louder than the upper note. (This sort of thing varies a lot from one instrument to another; you need to experiment to get the best sound.)

I look forward to hearing more of this: keep up the good work.

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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Sun Apr 08, 2012 1:31 am 
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Fairly obviously, I don't know this music at all. I think your performance is clean and professional, but I suspect this is very difficult music to put across effectively. Good luck with the rest of it; I'll be interested in hearing the work as a full entity.


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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 2:55 pm 
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Thanks all for interesting observations, this is something to think about. "Luminous" is not a word I would associate with this piece and not something I would try to bring out. If it is a journey it is through an inner landscape which is quite gloomy at least until the end, so admittedly playing only the first third is misrepresenting it quite a lot. I heard SH play this live a few months ago and of course that was fantastic and immediately made me buy the music - not because I was pleased by it but because I was genuinely disturbed by it (I don't know if this makes sense to you).

I hope to continue with this but am unsure how much time I can devote to it in the close future.

Alexander, many thanks for the voicing tips. You are absolutely correct that attention to these details is very important. I am still at the stage where I am trying to fit all details into a flow, and here I failed some in order to keep it together. For example, the large chords in the immenso follows jumps of three or four octaves, until now I have been glad just to hit the right notes, but you are quite right about this.


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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2012 3:39 pm 
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troglodyte wrote:
Thanks all for interesting observations, this is something to think about. "Luminous" is not a word I would associate with this piece and not something I would try to bring out. If it is a journey it is through an inner landscape which is quite gloomy at least until the end, so admittedly playing only the first third is misrepresenting it quite a lot. I heard SH play this live a few months ago and of course that was fantastic and immediately made me buy the music - not because I was pleased by it but because I was genuinely disturbed by it (I don't know if this makes sense to you).

It does, I am always taken by disturbing and gloomy music too. It's just such an unexpected side of Hough, who is usually witty, glittering, and urbane. Which is not to say he lacks depth, as prove these pieces. I still think there may be more rays of light to find here. But perhaps they're not meant to be, I don't know the music enough to judge it.

troglodyte wrote:
I am still at the stage where I am trying to fit all details into a flow, and here I failed some in order to keep it together. For example, the large chords in the immenso follows jumps of three or four octaves, until now I have been glad just to hit the right notes, but you are quite right about this.
I would not say you failed in any way. Of course one can do always better, and try more to play like SH :P
I'll put these on the site then, unless you don't want them to yet.

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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:06 am 
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troglodyte wrote:
"Luminous" is not a word I would associate with this piece and not something I would try to bring out. If it is a journey it is through an inner landscape which is quite gloomy at least until the end...

This is an interesting point. Yes, it's gloomy, but it has to be what I think of as "fairy-tale gloomy", not real-life gloomy. After all, if your playing is honestly gloomy then noone will want to listen to it. The content may be gloomy, but you still want to describe it to your listeners in an engaging way.

The key thing is that it musn't be too monotonous. It might be generally subdued, but certain details will shine out. Think of something like a Miyazaki animation of a gloomy landscape (or, if you haven't seen any Miyazaki films, think of a sad scene within your favourite Disney cartoon; but Miyazaki is better ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Wed Apr 11, 2012 3:38 pm 
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Thanks, I now understand better what you mean! And indeed also I love spirited away. I'll keep working on this.


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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 10:08 am 
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So, do we put this on the site or do you want to re-record it ?

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 Post subject: Re: Hough: Broken Branches (1-6)
PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:11 pm 
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I think best wait until I have done it all, Hough clearly intends this to be an integral thing. I just wanted some feedback on an initial effort.


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