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Music Review

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Echoes in the Valley


Artist: Sophie Hutchings
Label: Decca
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 29 October 2021

Australian pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings releases a new album of solo piano pieces via Decca. Echoes in the Valley consists of 11 tracks (40 min, 10 sec). Recording sessions had originally been scheduled to take place in Berlin, but when COVID hit and the world was forced into lockdown, Hutchings changed her approach entirely. She chose to embrace isolation, and use it as a means of moving through the quiet chaos and collective trauma that people around the world were experiencing. Listeners made contact with Hutchings to tell her their stories, and share how her music has helped them to stay grounded and calm...

It's interesting how the issues that caused so many artists to record albums at home, or in isolated locations, has been spun in such a way that the rough production values have been turned into a positive element. On Echoes in the Valley, each click and creak of Sophie Hutchings's piano can be clearly heard. As her website states: "It’s almost like you’re diving into the lungs of the piano."

At first this was a rather annoying and distracting consequence of the lack of professional production values, but as the album rumbled on it started to feel like part of its charm... but not enough to get over that initial hurdle.

Talking about the project, Hutchings says: "Isolation is hard for lots of people. But when it’s a chosen thing, you can find an interior solitude, and it can be therapeutic.” So Hutchings took herself away. She found a place in northern Australia, a rustic timber studio nestled in the crook of a dramatic valley in the Byron Hinterland: mountains and farmland to the west, rainforests and the ocean in the distant east.

It's a wonderfully structured and engaging collection. I'm not overly convinced that the sound of the mechanics of the piano enhance the overall album, and I think in years to come it may well be a choice that she looks back on and regrets. But the tracks are calming and beautifully laid back.


Darren Rea

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