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Classical Music Review

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When You are Reminded by the Instruments
The Music of Hayes Biggs


Composer: Hayes Biggs
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 12 October 2018

Navona Records release a compilation album of highlights from composer Hayes Biggs career to date. These 8 pieces (1 hr, 46 sec) are incredibly diverse in style, instrumentation and approach, showcasing Biggs's wide range of compositional styles.

'Pan-Fare', the album's starting point, is a rare modern classical piece for steel pan and a motley, jazz-inflected ensemble set against an original percussive backdrop. This includes, among others, a vibraslap, a marimba, and a Chinese opera gong.

The album's title track, 'When You are Reminded by the Instruments', is inspired by a verse in Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass'.

'Inquieto (attraverso il rumore)' pays homage to the popular music of the mid-20th century. The first movement is jazzy, while the second conjures up the driving rhythms of 1960's rock.

One of the most personal tracks on the album, 'The Trill Is Gone' is a dedication to Biggs's fellow composer and friend, the late Edwin London. This solo saxophone piece paints a memorable portrait of a character that, not unlike its dedicatee, is equal parts nonchalant, mischievous and sophisticated.

'Fanfare for Brass and Percussion' is exactly what one would expect from a 20th-century composition of a celebratory and solemn nature.

In the intimate 'E. M. am Flügel', melancholic tenderness meets with moments of precipitous furor. Specifically written for Biggs’s colleague — and the performer on this recording — Eric Moe, the piece includes quotations of Gregorian chants as well as a fragment from one of the Moe's compositions.

'Wedding Motet' is a choral work, inspired by Biggs's interest in liturgical texts, is steeped in the album's most obviously tonal musical syntax, harking back to the traditions of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Late Romantic periods.

'Ochila laEil', the composer's first choral piece set in Hebrew, develops a dialogue between a horn and the choir, mirroring the dynamic between cantor and congregation.

This is such a diverse album that everyone will have their favourites and possibly a few they don't much care for. As an exploration of a composers diverse output, this is an impressive release.

Track listing:

01 - Pan-fare (2007)
Desiree Glazier-Nazro (steel pan, pedal bass drum, and tambourine)
Petr Vronský (conductor)
Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra

02 - When You are Reminded by the Instruments (1997)
Elizabeth England (oboe/English horn), Rane Moore (clarinet/bass clarinet) ,Kevin Owen (horn), Julia Okrusko (violin), Peter Sulski (viola), Minghui Lin (violoncello), Tony D’Amico (contrabass)
James Blachly (conductor)

03 - Inquieto (attraverso il rumore) (2015)
Curtis Macomber (violin), Christopher Oldfather (piano)

04 - The Trill Is Gone (2013)
Andrew Steinberg (tenor saxophone)

05 - Fanfare for Brass and Percussion (1989)
Members of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Joel Eric Suben (conductor)

06 - E. M. am Flügel (1992)
Eric Moe (piano)

07 - Wedding Motet: Tota pulchra es/Set me as a seal upon thine heart (1998)
C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective
Ben Arendsen (conductor)
Christina Kay (soprano), Maya Ben-Meir (mezzo-soprano), Colin Britt (tenor), Timothy Brown (baritone), Rebecca Ehrens, Noele Flowers, Christina Kay, Karen Siegel (sopranos), Maya Ben-Meir, Jane Lawson, Artemisz Polonyi, Bettina Sheppard (altos), Colin Britt, Mario Gullo, Joseph N. Rubinstein, Perry Townsend (tenors), Hayes Biggs, Timothy Brown, Brian Mountford, David See (basses)

08 - Ochila laEil (1999)
Florilegium Chamber Choir
JoAnn Rice (conductor)
Daniel Grabois (horn), Walter Hilse (organ), Kathryn Hotarek (soprano), Ruthie McGonagil (mezzo-soprano)


Darren Rea

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