Hughes’s music is most notable for its variability in dissonance. He is able to move seamlessly from what sounds completely atonal to triadic harmony that allows for accessible expression. This mobility is apparent in all of the pieces on the album, though perhaps mostly in Orchids for piano, the high point of the record, showing the composer’s abilities. Sensitive and sincere performances by Richard Casey, a long-time friend and collaborator, help to accentuate the sometimes subtle differences between each ‘orchid’, bringing the collected work to life. They are haunting, and yet somehow a certain optimism manages to shine through, full of organic complexity and natural beauty, like the flower of the title.
‘Dark Formations’, despite being the title track, doesn’t quite live up to the piano work. We get the musical half of a collaboration between the composer and a University of Plymouth photographer, David Chandler. It feels like something is missing. The music is meant to accompany a series of photographs from the archives of the Imperial War Museums, showing bombing campaigns in WW II. It’s too bad that photographs couldn’t have been included with the package, but it is not difficult to use one’s imagination, along with the cover of the album. The same goes for Strike! , the study for a score to Eisenstein’s classic film of the same title.
The chamber concerto and sextet are purely instrumental works, not as strong as Orchids , but with many of the same qualities. Hughes also is able to put on display his strong orchestrational
talents. The ensembles sound cohesive, which is owing to the fine performances by New Music Players as well as the composer’s skills. Hughes’s affinity for complex rhythmic textures can emerge further with chamber works, as there are more musicians involved than the two hands on a piano. The changing patterns give the music several distinct layers, which are constantly shifting, and that is both engaging and demanding for the listener. These things are more difficult for a choir to perform, however, and A Buried Flame is the weakest piece on the record. Orchids alone makes the record worthwhile, and this two-disc set makes it easy to acquire a variety of music by a British composer from whom we can surely expect more high quality work to come.