Joseph Houston piano


Composer and composition teacher, Michael Zev Gordon, (Professor of Composition at Birmingham University), has had many commissions over the years from the likes of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, The London Sinfonietta and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. This disc contains music of a much more personal nature, almost a personal journal, consisting of eight groups of seven very short piano pieces. 

There are 56 on this disc and clearly Diary Pieces is a continuing project. The shortest movement is just 21 seconds long (Butterflies) and the longest runs for just over three minutes. Most of them capture a single idea and Gordon simply lets that idea speak for itself. In a way the pieces appear to be ‘doodles’, little musical figurines, which all could have been extended into more substantial works if that had been the intention. Instead, we have a varied tapestry of miniatures in a number of musical idioms, although Gordon’s principle musical language is tonal. 

Each has a title which also captures the mood of the piece, so the first item in Set One, Before playing Bach, consists of musical motifs in a neo-baroque style, while Oxford blues for Josh sounds bluesey as you would expect. Another obvious influence is Poulenc, and perhaps some of these pieces remind me of Satie. There is a ‘bitter sweet’ waltz or two and a homage to the music of Fauré as well as an attractive Song for Joe. Gordon acknowledges debts from ‘Bach to Brazilian jazz, Brahms to Jewish chant, French salon to folksong’. The pianist Joseph Houston plays impeccably throughout.

I am not sure one could really listen to all of these in one go (the CD lasts 80 minutes) and some of these pieces are such trifles that, even though they are brief, they rather outstay their welcome. The second number on the CD is called A Still Moment and really has nothing much to say, just small gestures which sound like an ‘idea’ rather than satisfying as a piece. Yet, I needed to bear in mind that these are not intended as ‘complete’ works. Gordon explains that they were written quickly on a single day and were always intended to be little diary ‘entries. The sets of pieces date from 2016 to 2022, and no doubt there are further sets to come.

Review by Ronald Corp