MusicWeb

Keith Barnard’s only mention on MusicWeb International to date has been in Philip Scowcroft’s 146 th Garland of Light British Composers, though with an admission that he doesn’t really fall under the category in the usually accepted sense. The booklet notes explain that Barnard’s music is “often explicitly linked with healing and colour rays”, outlining influences that include Romantic era composers such as Chopin and Liszt, moving through the mysticism of Scriabin and Alan Hovhaness. This CD was released in 2010 but unavoidable circumstances led to its promotion being somewhat neglected, so we’ve been invited by Métier to catch up on it.

Nocturne is indeed a “short and evocative night piece”, with rising tonal scales that slowly explore pianistic resonance, creating a deep atmosphere that is underpinned by a section with low clusters that for a time gently disrupt the beautiful sounds above with amorphous balls of sound.

The Ascended Healing Rays of the Cosmic Light was written for Jeffrey Grossman, the pianist in this recording. At 53 minutes this is a pretty vast musical canvas, but the music is by no means all sparse and static. The “great white cosmic light” is represented by tremolando passages that at times extend into chorale-like tonal progressions, and there are faster flourishes, melodic sections and sparing, transparent arches of sound – the rondo nature of the structure bringing each idea its own space to evolve over time.

Long duration is no guarantee of something meditative, but in following this music’s ebb and flow you will at times find yourself approaching inner reflection, only to have your inner eye woken to new and sometimes quite tumultuous worlds. My own inner debate with this work is not about its duration or even its content, but I’m not quite at ease with the segmented nature of its structure. There are indeed longer sections in a single ‘mood’, with for instance the feeling of distant and exotic bells and gongs. Like ripples on water, you don’t always appreciate someone throwing in stones that will disturb your contemplation, and my personal choice would have been more of a vast arch form with more interlaced transitions and a unity of development within and echoing between larger sections.

The Palace of Hsi Wang Mu depicts the jade palace of Eastern Asian Buddhist bodhisattva Kuan Yin, or Hsi Wang Mu. This is a slow and indeed meditative piece, its open intervals creating a feel of Asian shapes, and closer intervals adding resonance and a sense of wonder rather than introducing dissonance.

Superbly performed by musical chameleon Jeffrey Grossman, this is a recording that places the piano just a little further away than some, keeping the sound full but helping generate an atmosphere that suits this music well. If you like vast, exotic landscapes and the type of music that can transport you into realms that might have been hinted at in your more pleasant dreams then this is a fine place to take those journeys.

—Dominy Clements