William Rhys MEEK (b. 1963)
'A fenland journey' - music for piano
Winter moth; The wind in the reeds; Fireworks fair; Rosa; Waterland; The spire; The frozen fen; Cloudburst; Straw Bear; Queen Anne's Lace; From beneath The Plough; Page from a Christmas diary; Skating; The eight-sided lantern; The water machine; Churchyard moss; Mirror fields; Coltsfoot; Demoiselles; The Lapwing's nest; Rain on dark water; Sea purslane; Whirligig; Swans to roost; The 'copper fields': Gascoigne's way; While you slept.
William Rhys Meek, piano
Recorded at No Machine Studios, Wokingham, England 20th March 2002.
No catalogue number [41.51]
William Rhys Meek, the Lincolnshire-born son of English folk veteran Bill Meek (The Broadside etc.), studied at Leeds College of Music in the 1980s (during the same period I was at Sheffield University with his younger brother Stephen), going on to write themes for television, alongside his own highly personal piano music. He now lives and works in "the fen country", its open skies and countless waterways a direct inspiration for much of the music on this excellent, privately produced CD.
The brief but informative booklet notes highlight Meek's ability to combine harmonic complexity with a keen ear for both melody and rhythm. They also mention Satie and Ravel as influences, while noting the composer's admiration (one shared with this listener) for Charles Ives. While I would acknowledge this, other key voices are revealed as kindred spirits as the CD progresses; Rosa is almost pure Satie but two tracks later, The Spire had me reaching for Eric Parkin's groundbreaking survey of E.J. Moeran's piano works (JMS records). The titles given to the twenty seven short pieces (nothing over three minutes) are highly evocative and very tuned in to the "English pastoral/landscape tradition"; musically, the sequence consisting of Cloudburst, Straw Bear and Queen Anne's Lace, is one of the most varied yet strongest on the disc. The lilting Straw Bear is, to these ears, very Graingeresque, whereas Queen… wouldn't be out of place on a much more recent classic, Roger Eno's Between Tides.
The record as a whole lives and breathes the air of one of the few remaining corners of England which is still relatively lightly populated; I am reminded of past visits to the empty Lincolnshire coastline close to the composer's childhood home (looking out to the sand forts at Donna Nook, birdwatching at lonely Gibraltar Point) and accompanying my late mother as she searched for her ancestral roots around the virtually deserted area which borders the rivers Trent and Humber and their confluence. The music goes on to display a kinship with composers past and present, Howard Skempton and John Ireland would both feel at home with at least some of the characteristics on display here. Meek's music has a wonderful sense (spirit?) of place, Coltsfoot, Demoiselles, and The Lapwing's Nest could only have been written by someone with a very specific grounding in nature and a strong feeling for their landscape (just as much as Ireland in Amberley Wild Brooks, The Island Spell or even the classic Sarnia). Even so, there are some almost Bachian sequences (Whirligig?), filtered through Finzi, perhaps, but there nonetheless.
I have mentioned several possible antecedents but this music is, in the final analysis, both very personal and stylistically consistent. This disc is a tribute to the vision and integrity of an artist/composer who deserves a wider hearing. It has fired the visual side of my imaginative memory as much as any music in recent times, obviously through some personal connection with the places it was inspired by, but also in a much wider sense of it representing an aspect of rural Britain that sadly appears to say and mean very little to the majority but to me remains an absolute treasure. Something that made me remember, out of the blue, fifteen years on, a slate grey hen harrier hovering over a winter reed bed is indeed very special and something to be cherished.
All in all, this is both a superb achievement and a fulfilling listening experience, fully deserving of an unequivocal recommendation. The disc can be obtained direct by contacting the composer at [email protected]
From the Bulletin Board
Thanks to Neal Horner for a perceptive and valuable review of William Rhys Meek's privately produced CD of piano works. Inspired by Mr. Horner's review, I contacted the composer to purchase a copy of the cd. He sent it to me posthaste, and I can only concur most strongly with Mr. Horner's recommendation. I believe anyone who likes the piano music of Ireland or Virgil Thomson, Ravel or William Gillock, will enjoy this music tremendously. But it has a lyrical yet objective quality of its own that is very special, and reminded me in places of the best Japanese music. A wonderful find!
Lloyd Cole Mequon, WI USA
The Field – music for piano by William Rhys Meek
Performed by the composer. Recorded in Lincolnshire, England, April 2012
These immediate first impressions were written at the request of Mr. Vernharður Linnet without any knowledge whatsoever of the pianist-composer in question.
In view of my 30 year-old increasing skepticism of avant garde music (to say nothing of ‘experiment for experiment’s sake’) it was refreshing to hear, by and large, such immediately hearworthy small pieces that dare (if that is the proper word) disregard the long standing academic demand for ‘nie erhörte Klänge’ – often in favour of all but late romantic/impressionistic tonality.
The first number (Daybreak, summer, 1:46) struck me as maybe the most ‘original’ piece with its poised pentatonic treatment, akin to a sprightly Japanese Zen-hued haiku afterthought on nature. No. 3, Whitethroat’s nest (1:36) fitted nicely with several other miniatures reminiscent of diminutive etudes on a specific interval (here the Fourth). No. 5 (Poppies, 1:40) went like a quasi-Satiesque waltzlet with added spice. No. 7 (Charlock, 1:28), another waltz, was harmonically juicy as well, according to title.
Mirage (No. 9, 2:13), single-tonedly naked at first, ended on a series of thought-provoking lone standing chords; evident stuff for further development. No. 13, At night (3:57) drove through dark mysterious velvet-clad lanes; a brief unfulfilled journey which continued with Corn Dolly (1:22), a cute but unobliging nurseroom ditty, followed by a stark chordal row (An encounter with a young deer, 1:58) and the shortest piece on the disc, Hawthorn (0:52) – both of whom appeared somewhat thin in the total context. As indeed did Cuckoo Flower (2:39), although the dancing final piece, From a grassy hill (2:33) offered some promise of adventure, given further development.
That particular sentiment applied more or less to most of the material on this CD – obviously affecting the intrinsic privilege of the miniature genre to make a brief point without further ado. Sometimes, in my view, the latter worked admirably, sometimes less so. All the same, the disc provided in most cases an endearing ‘out-of-doors’ listening experience, enhanced by the composer’s own competent interpretation in an well-balanced recording – although the most brilliant moments might, perhaps, profit by a top virtuoso handling.
Ríkarður Ö. Pálsson,