WATKINS Huw, ‘Resurrection of the Soldiers’ from Four Spencer Pieces
This sequence for solo piano actually comprises six pieces, since the four titled movements inspired by paintings of Sir Stanley Spencer are enclosed between a Prelude and Postlude in which serenely descending harmonies settle on repeated notes, tolling like a distant bell. And repeated notes prove a recurrent feature of the Spencer Pieces proper.
The distant, tolling bell of the Prelude returns at the still opening of the longest movement ‘The Resurrection of Soldiers’, with convergent high and low sonorities suggesting a passing echo of ‘Le gibet’ from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. In due course the music passes over into a convolved fugue, but so subtly that it is difficult tell exactly where the transition occurs – or where it passes back again into the preludial music.
Not least striking about the Four Spencer Pieces, is how Watkins, even at his most aggressively chromatic, contrives to keep his textures clean of the dispiriting greyness of so much ‘advanced’ piano writing. The Maidenhead Music Society commissioned the work in 2001 and Watkins gave the premiere in the parish church at Cookham, the Thames-side village Spencer lived in for so long and transfigured in his paintings.
© Bayan Northcott, 2012