Kenneth Hesketh’s Graven Image, didn’t just restore the orchestra to full size but bolstered it with additional instruments. To excellent effect: another work with line at its epicentre, Hesketh festooned it with extravagant decoration and embellishment, tapping into a positively cinematic lushness. It would be easy to become caught up in such exotic loveliness, but bass surges and a majestic climax kept one grounded. This was deeply complicated music, delightfully so, one’s focus flying around the orchestra as ideas constantly surfaced in all directions, many lost moments later. In the wake of such an overwhelming tumult, Graven Image finds itself at the last a little lost, ending in a white, dazed haze.
Extravagant impressions: new music and the BBCNOW pays homage to Dutilleux
27 January 2016
After the interval the score Graven Image by Kenneth Hesketh was much more impressive in musical terms, although apart from its inspiration as a memento mori the connection with Dutilleux seemed tenuous at best. There was a chilling sense of frozen stillness at the outset which was immediately arresting, and a firm purpose was apparent in the rifting horn lines, glittering textures that surrounded them, and spectral violins. The central scherzo-like section had an almost Bartók-like sense of ferocity and impulse, and the chordal writing for three flutes in the final pages had the same sense of uneasy repose that is to be found in the last movement of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. This was a BBC commission that thoroughly deserved its revival.
Seen and Heard International
High Quality Performances of Dutilleux and Centenary Tributes
Paul Corfield Godfrey
28 Janauary 2016
There was an electricity and panache to the first performance of Kenneth Hesketh’s Graven Image, a co-commission by the BBC and the RLPO, who performed it with flying colours at the Prom on 1 August under their exciting young conductor Vasily Petrenko. Hesketh’s stunningly-orchestrated and eloquently-shaped orchestral work formed a colourful overture to a riveting Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto (soloist Paul Lewis) and a fiery account of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Hesketh, the RLPO’s composer in residence (2007-9), has a string of works lined up for the orchestra, and clearly revels in its sonorities, for the most striking aspect of Graven Image is its brilliant, indeed resplendent orchestration, combining echoes from the transparent opulence of Mahler and Henze, as well as the perfumed richness of French music, Berlioz, through Roussel and even Messaien. The programmatic title alludes to the medieval ‘momento mori’, with the ideas of time and mortality, and quotes from the Third-Century Roman ‘Epitaph of a cynic’ in its poetic preface. Yet it also works as a pure essay in sound.
Throughout we hear bell-like sounds, produced by high string harmonies, repeated high notes in woodwind or percussion – a large section comprising tubular bells, as well as vibraphone and xylophone. Such tintinnabulations, far from suggesting frozen time, seem rather to generate a high ostinato which has its own life, and persuades the listener to follow the energetic material in the middle layer of the texture, where melodic fragments wisp around with striking melodic doublings, such as the woodwind blends at the start. Yet the strength of the work is its energy and clarity, articulated through an unambiguous slow-fast-slow ternary form which drives through a series of large climaxes.
The first, in the slowly-evolving opening section, accumulates a full saturation of texture, while the biggest forms the culmination of the busier, quicksilver middle section, where Petrenko really intensified the build-up through to its thrilling peak. Especially original, though, was Hesketh’s control of the relaxation process, which leads to the final reprise-like section. Rather than dissolving completely, as one expects, the thinned-out woodwind motifs, especially on mellow bass clarinet and bassoon, revive and challenge expectation in their renewal of energy and restoration of the fuller density of the start. The very ending is magical: from the tingling percussion a sustained flute note emerges, dovetailed into violin, and is cut off by a single triangle ping. As a whole the piece communicated, moved and thrilled; and one sensed a composer who both has something to say and the means to say it.
The concerto came between Kenneth Hesketh's Graven Image and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, works that share a strong undertow of fatalism. Not that they sounded remotely like one another. Hesketh's new piece, receiving its world premiere, called on large resources, the music at times radiates that hothouse atmosphere redolent of Skryabin's Prometheus. The harmonic language is fluid, and there is that sense of the music surging up from a seething cauldron, and at times erupting with sparks and bursts of instrumental colour. It was characteristic of Hesketh's keen ear, however, that the music, for all its complexity, sounded lucid.
4 August 2008
The start of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra's season is an eagerly awaited event these days. And no wonder the Hall gets packed out when concerts are as inspiring as this one.
Kenneth Hesketh's Graven Image had its premiere at the Proms last month, and its austere yet compelling beauty made its mark just as surely here, in the more analytical acoustic of the Philharmonic Hall.
Orchestras and conductors have a nose for scores like this that know precisely what they are doing, where they are going, and why.
The piece gained a dimension from the death earlier this week of the RLPO's conductor emeritus, Vernon Handley. Vasily Petrenko and the orchestra dedicated the entire concert to his memory, and while Hesketh may not have had a particular individual or event in mind, Graven Image made a worthy memorial to a man who gave sterling service to British music.
19 Sep 2008
The Daily Telegraph