New Music players
Primrose Piano Quartet

MÉTIER msv 28623

Ed Hughes is Professor of Composition at the University of Sussex. In 1990 he founded the New Music Players, a contemporary ensemble comprising up to 25 world class performers. Different groups from among these people play in the first four works on the CD. The fifth, ‘The Woods So Wild’ is performed by the Primrose Piano Quartet.

All the works are inspired by landscapes throughout the South Downs. I am not familiar with this region at all, so I found it helpful that Hughes in his programme note listed internet access to a film by Sam Moore, South Downs: A Celebration. The music accompanying the film is the opening movement of the second work on the CD, Nonet, performed by four winds, four strings and piano. Watching and listening brought the music firmly into focus. I found it quite intriguing.  Attractive stills from the film are shown in the accompanying booklet.

Ed Hughes’ compositional style is unique and thoroughly personal. Much ‘new’ music has close connections with the idea of place,and this is certainly true with Hughes’ music. The opening work Flint for 11 string players in its second and third movements has reference to a Sussex folk song collected by George Butterworth, A Lawyer He went out one Day. The tune is embellished by Hughes’ busy counterpoint, often on the outer edges of tonality. The opening movement works powerfully within what Hughes describes as ‘layering’. 

The third work consists of two pieces, Lunar 1 and Lunar 2 for a quartet of flute, violin, cello and piano. Luminous, radiant, and unearthly are words chosen by the composer to describe this music. 

Chroma is like Flint, for 11 string players with a string quartet at its heart. I particularly enjoyed The Woods So Wild performed so cleanly and transparently by the Primrose Piano Quartet.

Elements of folk music, the merest touch of jazz in some of the rhythms, and melody lines on the outer fringes of tonality pervade Hughes’ musical style. The difference between ‘pop’ and ‘classical’ music is that with pop, one listening is all you need. With classical, and especially with Hughes, every time you listen, you discover something new, surely a treasure-house of musical inspiration. 

Review by Alan Cooper