Composer Paul Pellay responds to the programme….
As usual, it was a stimulating mix which has left me with much food for thought, and I’m sure what I heard will reverberate with me for a while. First off, please give my congratulations to Michael for a splendid piece – mixing openly diatonic writing with darker, more dissonant music in one piece is a difficult trick to pull off (most composers simply end up sounding schizophrenic when they attempt it), but I think Michael made it work very well, because to my ears he somehow manages to maintain and keep discernible some kind of compositional scarlet thread throughout the work so that everything felt connected and logical. Most composers today seem to have lost that ability, which is sad.
Random thoughts about the rest of the programme: There wasn’t a weak link in the whole sequence, but some works stood out more than others. The Priaulx Rainier was the big surprise for me – what little I had previously heard of hers hadn’t made a strong impression of me (I recall a string quartet of hers from the late 30s which didn’t seem to be up to much, but it’s been over 20 years since I heard it), so I wasn’t prepared for this Movement – despite its concision it felt like a much bigger piece, and it definitely grabbed my attention. It had a grittiness not normally encountered in English music from that period (though, now that I think about it, a few other figures were already sensing “something nasty in the woods” – VW’s Symphony 4 dated from 1935, after all, and Britten would write some of his most radical music in “Our Hunting Fathers” also in 1936).
The Poulenc was fascinating because it seemed so schizoid to my ears: that weirdly forced gaiety in much of the outer movements cheek-by-jowl with those quasi-Mahlerish hammer blows in the piano’s lowest reaches (and wasn’t Aaron terrific all the way through?!). It’s definitely the strangest piece I’ve heard from him. Incidentally, you know that Poulenc himself wound up being pretty dissatisfied with the piece – he summed it up as “très mediocre Poulenc” in his Journal de mes Melodies. Too harsh a judgment, I think.
All in all, though, I think the Hindemith is the piece I still have hovering around in my brain at the end – I’ve known it ever since I first heard Hindemith’s own recording on the radio as a schoolboy. It’s Hindemith all over – no fuss, no flash, just the most honest music you’re likely to hear anywhere.