Horae (pro Clara)

'Kenneth Hesketh, one of the UK's most vibrant voices, has a brand of modernism that reveals true love for sound itself, and in the sure hands of Clare Hammond, Hesketh's sure voice shines powerfully forth. The major work is the 42-minute, 12-movement Horae (pro Clara) ('Breviary for Clare') written for Hammond. Suffused with beauty, this is highly evocative and fragile (as marking such as 'as fleet as a humming bird' and 'like intertwining chime clocks' indicate). Perhaps Hammond could have given even more to the contrastive 'maniaco ed instabile' section, but it seems a small point in the majesty of this performance. Inspired by Keats'Ode to a Nightingle. Through Magic Casements is an elusive reaction to the original, while Notte Oscura, a transcription from Hesketh's opera The Overcoat, is granitically gestural. The concluding Japanese Miniatures are far from miniature in heft, despite the charming stories they tell. A significant release.'
 
International Piano
September 2016
 
Of the generation of British composers approaching their fifties... Hesketh numbers among those who have succeeded in finding a fertile balance between solidity of construction and a free discursive outpouring.
His Three Japanese Miniatures (2002) resonate with a subtlely polarised atonality, at the heart of which are outlined harmonies whose modal reflections could, in a subliminal fashion, evoke Messiaen, Dutilleux or Takemitsu. The most recent Through Magic Casements (2008) is typical of this perpetual cascade, of the fluidity which imbues all the piano music of this composer, a distant echo of the Lisztian virtuosity found in Jeux d'eau. When she gets her teeth into it, Clare Hammond is impressive.
Conceived as a book of hours with a title dedicated to the interpreter, the twelve miniatures of Horae (pro clara) affirm's Hesketh's taste for harmonic refinement. This virtuosic and crystalline music, which Clare Hammond recreates in all its freshness, sparkles like a fountain in full sunlight (V), presents a stylised echo of birds (II, X), and reminds us of Hesketh's specific interest in fragile automata (VIII). Plucking notes within the instrument and brushing of strings elsewhere evokes Crumb. Erratic rhythms and chopped lines evolve at times towards a surge of energy. Tension is never far from the (fairly rare) calmer passages.
Hammond is the declared ambassador of this almost oxymoronic pianistic fusion of density and clarity. This, however, is just one facet of the composer to be discovered here.
Diapason
Pierre Rigaudière
June 2016

Magic and mystery along with clock-like mechanics, feature again in the compositions for piano brought together on this new disc from BIS. It is extremely well recorded, with Clare Hammond (for whom the most substantial piece was written) playing throughout with a winning combination of technical subtlety and expressive spontaneity in music that presents plenty of challenges to the performer. The 40-minute Horae (pro Clara) is an ambitious transformation of the idea of the Book of Hours into a sequence of 12 movements that can be played in any order, and therefore avoid the conventional structural process of a steadily building dramatic momentum. There are contrasts between quasi-Impressionistic figuration and more forceful, fragmented states reaching what sound like brief outbursts of sheer rage in the final section. Overall, however, the emphasis is on a kind of tranced meditativeness that is also effective in the shorter pieces that frame Horae (pro Clara). In particular, the two compositions from 2002, Notte Oscura and Three Japanese Miniatures, are outstanding in the way that what Hesketh has described “as his tendency to 'scepticism and a sense of pessimism' keeps the individual pieces veering away from predictability while making very satisfying wholes. The last of the Miniatures, the only truly scherzo-like music on the disc, provides a notably effective close.
Gramophone
Arnold Whittall
June 2016

Although the British composer Ken Hesketh (b. 1968) writes for many different ensembles, he regards the piano in his own words as "his" instrument, which is why he has composed enough pieces for piano by now to fill an entire CD. Clare Hammond, with whom he has already long worked and who is also the dedicatee of an almost 45-minute long work, Horae, has now compiled his pieces composed between 2002 and 2012. As it happens, these pieces are conceived in an expressly pianistic way, demanding a great deal from the interpreter, but they lie well under the hand and also sound engaging. For the most part Hesketh restricts himself to the "normal" method of playing on the keys, and it is only at some exposed places that the interpreter must reach into the body of the instrument. While the composer makes use of almost the entire registral breadth of the piano, these works always remain however sonorous and harmonically interesting; Clare Hammond succeeds outstandingly in bringing out the changing sonorities with flawless transparency and technique. Since the pieces bear descriptive titles, one might have wished several times for a somewhat more characteristic sound; Hesketh depicts, as it were, in each piece all that the piano is capable of... The interpreter conveys in any case a sense of the work which is neither conventional nor avant-garde in a brittle way, but always retains allusions of tonal stimuli.
Klassik Heute
Dr. Hartmut Lück
June 2016

A pianist by training, Kenneth Hesketh is best known for his compositions for orchestra, of whom Sir Simon Rattle, Vasily Petrenko and Oliver Knussen, among others, have made themselves advocates. The four piano works presented on this CD, beautifully interpreted by the dedicatee of the main work, Clare Hammond, spread themselves like a large liquid landscape, despite the indexing, pushing the listener to listen in one sitting, so captivating is this music.
Superlative sound capturing illuminates the ease with which Clare Hammond masters the complexities of this programme.
Ledisquaire.com
May 2016

FIVE STAR REVIEW Hesketh: Through Magic Casements; Horae (Pro Clara); Notte oscura; Three Japanese Miniatures
The title track is a ‘miniature book of hours’, its 12 evocative parts marked by densely argued technical demands, a broad colour palette and a challenging variety of articulation, the overall effect one of satisfyingly labyrinthine mystery and complexity.
There’s a curious but compelling amalgam at the heart of this richly satisfying recital. Simultaneously concentrated and relaxed, Kenneth Hesketh’s music carries itself with all the poetic intensity of a Haiku. In newly anointed RPS Young Artist Clare Hammond, he’s found the perfect interpreter, her meticulously measured playing encapsulating Hesketh’s intelligently constructed, emotionally loaded phrases with flair and finesse. The title track is a ‘miniature book of hours’, its 12 evocative parts marked by densely argued technical demands, a broad colour palette and a challenging variety of articulation, the overall effect one of satisfyingly labyrinthine mystery and complexity. Fragments and paraphrases from other works in progress, the Three Japanese Miniatures show Hesketh thinking aloud in now tentative, now bold gobbets of still-forming material. Vivid exercises in atmosphere are the hymning of Keats in Through Magic Casements and Notte Oscura, which conjures the fierceness of a Russian winter to chilling effect. Excellent sound adds to the attractions of a disc with much to recommend it.
Classicalear.co.uk
Michael Quinn
13 Jun, 2016

FOUR STAR REVIEW Horae (pro Clara) CD review – a delicate luminosity
Clare Hammond (piano)
(BIS label)
Kenneth Hesketh composes music of delicate luminosity, as the Horae, written for the pianist Clare Hammond, shows. A dozen miniatures, put together like a medieval breviary, their subtitles give a sense of their refinement: “as fleet as the tiniest humming bird”; “like an evening full of the linnet’s wings”, “like the splash and suspension of water droplets”. But it’s not all in that vein of extreme subtlety. Bursts of colour and darkness offer contrast and rigour, virtuosically handled by Hammond, a star interpreter of contemporary music and recent recipient of the RPS Awards Young Artist 2016 category. Well worth investigating.
Fiona Maddocks
The Observer
12 June 2016

RECORDING OF THE MONTH Kenneth HESKETH (b. 1968) Through Magic Casements, Horae, Notte Oscura, Japanese Miniatures - Clare Hammond (piano) rec. 2015 BIS SACD [DC] Awards await this remarkable release.
Kenneth HESKETH (b. 1968) Through Magic Casements (2008) [4:39] Horae (pro Clara) (2011/12) [42;08] Notte Oscura (2002) [6:48] Three Japanese Miniatures (2002) [12:12] Clare Hammond (piano) rec. August 2015, Cardiff University Concert Hall, Wales. BIS BIS-2193 SACD [66:37]
Kenneth Hesketh has yet to become a true household name but he has been forging a respected career for many years, and has appeared before on the pages of MWI in an interview with Christopher Thomas back in 2007, and two albums: Theatre of Attractions and Wunderkammer. His “fierce intelligence, breadth of knowledge and the incisiveness of his imagination” is brought together with Clare Hammond’s remarkable pianism on this BIS SACD, and what seems likely to become one of the contemporary piano music records of the year.
Don’t be put off by the fistfuls of notes that open the programme. Through Magic Casements may take a couple of listens, but its references to the images in Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale provide enough clues to the contrasts between “the vibrant song of the nightingale with [the poet’s] own fevered state.” Mix birdsong and piano and there will be inevitable comparisons with Messiaen, but if you know the latter you’ll also know this is something coming from an entirely different, and not entirely comfortable place.
Carrying on with the shorter works, Notte Oscura is a transcription from a segment of Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, and while it has plenty of tremulously descriptive touches referring to “our Northern cold”, the effect is often pleasantly post-Romantic. Another collection that takes its starting points in material from another work for chamber orchestra, the Three Japanese Miniatures connect to Japanese folk tales. Descriptive and programmatic, these pieces are packed with atmosphere and drama, and for music with relatively short duration they have a feeling of momentous content and tapestry-like range of image and colour.
The main act here is Horae (pro Clara), a series of twelve short pieces written for Clare Hammond over a two-year period, and as a whole forming a “breviary or book of hours.” Clare’s booklet notes refer to the “prodigious demands” made on the performer, not only “in terms of technical proficiency and physical stamina, but also in the sheer breadth of colour, variety of articulation and the intensity of rhetoric that is required.” Hesketh has described his music as ‘detailed and labyrinthine’ and as having ‘dense textures that are lucid and transparent’, and there are few words better for getting a hold on what to expect here as a first impression. I don’t always find myself in tune with this kind of uncompromising approach as I found out with Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, but with Hesketh there is a sense of poetic contact which I miss in Finnissy. Rather than turn his pieces into lengthy tracts, Hesketh engages through compact argument. You may not always agree with this composer’s point of view in musical terms, but by the time you have gathered your wits into some kind of repost he will have wrong-footed you with a gesture or inflection of sonority and line that once again has you interested and focussed. There are pieces that refer to the poetry of Yeats, or which overtly explore the composer’s “fascination with automata and his own concept of ‘unreliable machines.’” The ninth movement has a performance instruction, ‘like intertwining chime clocks’, and it’s not hard to imagine oneself in a nocturnal and haunted factory of wilful timepieces. The longest piece is the Molto misterioso, desolate twelfth, to which is added the quote ‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’. Dark, low sonorities and dynamic extremes create tensions that are not resolved by slow developments that commence in the higher registers. Slowness is challenged by passages of threatening violence and spectacular virtuosity, but this change in the landscape turns out to be a distracting detail – a golden-section carbuncle or knotted swirl in the blackened lines of a burnt stump, or the stump itself in the charred vastness of a dangerously smoking and tragic field.
With BIS’s superlative sound, Clare Hammond’s amazing performances and Kenneth Hesketh’s challenging but rewarding musical language, I am indeed sure this is destined to be one of the contemporary/piano discs of 2016.
Dominy Clements
Musicweb-International, May 2016

Hesketh's music is challenging and complex, intricate and detailed. Textures are invariably of the utmost clarity; even when hectically rapid toccata-like passages occur the outlines of the gestures are never blurred. Harmonically very free, the music occasionally recalls Dutilleux (with whom the composer studied), and Messiaen, but these impressions are fleeting at best, and are mostly suggested by the translucent color of texture on the one hand and restless rhythmic incisiveness on the other. Hesketh speaks of singing in the cavernous Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool as a boy as having made an indelible impression on him, and the emphasis on resonance, echo effects and a finely judged sense of what works in hugely resonant conditions (either acoustic or created by the piano's sustain pedals) is a constant feature of these pieces. The twelve short pieces that make up the 'Breviary for Clare' explore every type of intricate patterning, often imposing considerable technical demands on the performer, and many evoke complicated miniature mechanisms on the verge of going out of control or pushed to the limits of performance - a recurring idea in the composer's music borne out by the evocatively theatrical performance directions. This kind of precisely etched grotesquerie of image pervades all these pieces, leaving an unsettling impression overall.
Records International, June 2016

A stream of CDs arrives each month on our desk, with a recent eye-catching new recording from the Swedish label, BIS, which – in its clean, sharp, immaculate packaging – often champions contemporary music. Kenneth Hesketh (b. 1968) is a British composer who seems to have developed an unparalleled sound-world: a modern impressionism of unceasing invention; of suspension and movement; of layers of sound – varying from (as in the 12-movement work, Horae (PRO CLARA) (Breviary for Clare) from 2012) the sound of “the tiniest humming bird” and an “evening full of linnet’s wings” – to a desolate Molto misterioso, ‘for now we see through a glass, darkly’. Performed by Royal Philharmonic Society Award-winner, Clare Hammond (she secured this year’s prestigious RPS ‘Young Artist’ category, and is also a dedicatee of Hesketh’s work) the new disc*, produced by BIS engineer, Robert Suff, must rank as one of the most thought-provoking productions of new music to have appeared in recent years.
Stuart Millson
Classical Music Editor
Quartely Review, May 2016

As one of today’s most successful composers of this younger generation, Kenneth Hesketh has piano music that is unusually expressive and multi-layered– and Clare Hammond, who premiered his work, is an exceptional interpreter. The record is named after his twelve-part time-based series named Horae, subtitled Breviary for Clare (written for Clare Hammond). 
Hesketh shows that it is possible to create new, evocative music within the fairly traditional new piano music idiom. Under the seemingly generic surface of Hesketh’s music, we have all sorts of processes – sometimes moving at the same time, but usually beginning at different times.  There is drama and there are many layers– overall there are multidimensional sounds.  Hammond brings these through with concentration and refinement.
May 5th, 2016
Ville Komppa
YLE Klassinen  

Horae (pro Clara):

"However it was in the most intimate moments that we were truly mesmerised as Clare Hammond’s two movements from Kenneth Hesketh’s ‘Horae’ left the audience transfixed."

Wednesday 21st November, 2012
South Wales Argus

'Another winner who chose new music was Clare Hammond. Kenneth Hesketh's Horae (pro clara) is named for the twelve goddesses of Greek mythology who personified the hours between sunrise and sunset. Of the sequence of pieces written - as the title suggests - especially for her, Hammond played 'Auge' (daybreak) and 'Anatolia' (dawn). She found a crystalline beauty in the figurations of the former and brought out the latter's contrasts of colouring and texture with much flair.

Rian Evans
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
CLASSICAL SOURCE

'She played three miniatures by Kenneth Hesketh from his 12-piece cycle Horae (pro clara), intense sometimes shadowy music that explores emotional and colouristic possibilities. This is Hammond's music, written for her, the ordering of pieces her choice; this particular triptych (I-III-II) made one keen to hear the cycle complete…

Colin Anderson
St James's Piccadilly, London
CLASSICAL SOURCE

In a later recital, Clare Hammond offered a piano odyssey, with pieces inspired by ancient Greece. Hammond's sensibilities were already apparent in Szymanowski's Métopes, Op.29 and Satie's three Gnossiennes, but it was in the premiere of Kenneth Hesketh's Horae that sheshowed serious mettle. In Greek mythology there was a goddess for each hour, and this sequence of 12 pieces, a modern book of hours, builds to a very substantial 37 minutes. Hammond displayed its scintillating passagework and poetic calm with great flair.

Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham

Rian Evans  
The Guardian
Tuesday 9 July 2013