Jill Richards: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004

Michael Blake Edition - MBED001 - CD - 2008
Jill Richards piano

Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004 is available at:

  • Digitally: classicsonline.com; spotify; amazon.co.uk
  • Mail order: Upbeat Music http://www.upbeatmusic.co.za; African Music Store https://www.facebook.com/TheAfricanMusicStore/

CD Launch https://vimeo.com/album/3290650/video/110760991

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There is a sense, in Blake’s piano works, of a lovely simplicity that has, in fact, been shaped from a deep complexity. They feel old and new at the same time.
Shaun de Waal, Mail & Guardian, South Africa, 21-27 November 2008
Blake is an outsider’s outsider, so far removed from the comfort zones of the Classic FM listener that he may as well not exist…these are achingly beautiful compositions that reveal a deeply romantic sensibility always pulsing under the self-consciously complex curtain of textural play on the surface of the music.
Aryan Kaganof, Art South Africa, Summer 2009
Blake-uitreiking van geskiedkundige en nasionale belang
Blake release of historical and national significance
Kobus van der Merwe, Die Burger, Cape Town, 9 March 2009
Translation: Giel Swart
Blake issue of historical and national importance
Kobus van der Merwe, Die Burger, Cape Town, 9 March 2009
Translation: Giel Swart

A copy of local composer Michael Blake’s Edition 01 – Complete Works for Piano Composed between 1994 and 2004, as recorded by Jill Richards – has just come into my possession.

It is rare that we get local issues of classical music of this calibre – one of our foremost contemporary composes, played by one of the country’s better-known pianists and one of the biggest promoters of contemporary music. Precisely because of this it struck me as an issue of historical and national importance.

I have already become acquainted with Blake’s music on a few occasions, mostly at concerts given by Richards, the same pianist as on the album.

The sleeve-notes explain Blake’s approach to music, out of the foundations laid by international pioneers of experimental art music from the 50s and 60s, such as John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Howard Skempton and locally Kevin Volans.

Apart from intricate syncopation and complicated cross-rhythms, there are no excessively virtuoso demands on the pianist in Blake’s shorter piano works.

Blake is interested in using the piano simply to convey disparate landscapes of timbre, rhythm and simple, often repetitive, melody, to the listener, rather than being pianistically challenging and exploratory.

He frequently takes his inspiration from the work of other composers, in particular Bach, and the influence of African music, especially the Xhosas’ approach, is also evident in some of the works here. Three works reflect Bach in different forms, while “Ways to Put in the Salt” imitates the unique sound and rhythm of the Xhosa bow (uhadi).

Nine of the short works on the album, composed over a period of nine years, have a direct link with the work of earlier composers, such as Stravinsky, Ives, Schoenberg and Cole Porter.

A range of interesting techniques is used throughout. So for example the profound “Nightsongs” (dedicated to Jill Richards) is a distorted treatment of motives from Cole Porter songs with the word “night” in the title. And in the recurring bass note the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom phrase can be clearly heard, while rhythmically it also has an African flavour.

“BWV Fragments” is another opportunity for Bach to be turned upside down. For this work fragments from Bach’s cello suites are deconstructed, transposed, superimposed or played in the wrong key. The result is an accessible, yet challenging work with phrases that still here and there capture Bach’s original sentiment.

In my view a later work, “Oh Clare”, which is based on Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (and specifically the Myra Hess transcription), is however a more satisfactory result from this sort of experimental deconstruction.

One of the high points on the album is “Remembering Stravinsky…Morges, Autumn 2001”, composed on a visit to the Swiss town where Stravinsky once lived. It is a beautiful illustration of Blake’s ability to create a poignant atmosphere with the absolute minimum of means.

Overall this is an exceptionally satisfying and accessible album, which even listeners who are not fans of experimental, contemporary music will find captivating.

For collectors Edition 01 offers a valuable South African addition to any collection.

…fragile…robust…decidedly playful…expressionist…explosively energetic…exhilarating…
Colin Clarke, Tempo, Volume 64, Issue 251, January 2010