Leonora Piano Trio
Orchestra Nova
George Vass conductor

Resonnus RES10338

The booklet notes confidently proclaim right from the start that ‘Huw Watkins is widely recognised as the leading Welsh composer of his generation’. It is certainly true that his CV proves as much. This CD is a good starting point to appreciate his language. 

I would describe it as being on the edge of tonality, and the first work on the disc, the Piano Trio No 1 of 2009 is a good place to start. The work falls into three distinct movements, with its most compellingly beautiful Lento coming second. What is especially memorable in this work, and throughout, is the material. There may be just a few evocative bars which might be repeated before developing, but they can stay in the memory, and the end of the final Allegro molto does likewise.

Talking of which, the Little Symphony for String orchestra (2013) has two haunting ideas, a Brittenesque exuberant one, which is contrasted with a deeply nostalgic singing one. These are opposed and developed in a way which makes this a perfectly satisfying fifteen minute work, wonderfully played by George Vass’s Orchestra Nova.

Running at half the length of the Little Symphony, and also in one movement, is the Piano Quartet (2012). The music says what it means to say and then stops, and has again, two contrasted ideas and moods. One is agitated and scherzo-like, and the second, is a more overtly expressive one. They mix and overlap, and are never quite tonal, but they are harmonically deliciously illusive.

The pattern of starting with wild, almost violent music and then soon presenting us with lyrical, quieter ideas, almost apologising for its earlier violence, is continued in the Concertino for Violin and String Orchestra (2011). In fact, the final impression, especially aT the end of the work, is rather sad and desolate. It is a thoughtful and highly expressive piece of nature music. George Vass originally conducted its première in Presteigne.

Book ending the recording with another Piano Trio, we have No 2. This was composed for the 40th birthday of the Presteigne Music Festival in 2022. Although again in one movement, it falls into four sections during its sixteen minutes, that is slow, fast, slow, and fast, moving into a powerful and dramatic presto ending. Like all of these pieces the performances seem to be unbeatable, and one assumes that the composer was present for the sessions. Highly recommended.

Review by Gary Higginson