Graham Fitkin - Circuit - Tokyo Symphony Orchestra

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A maximalist minimalist is the terminology I would use to best describe Graham Fitkin, a British composer born in 1963. Although he does use minimalist techniques comparable to Steve Reich, John Adams, etc ... his music also demonstrates a complexity that is always a thrill to hear. Over the years he has composed many works for solo piano, orchestral works, ballet scores, vocal music and various instrumental combinations, but his instrument of choice still remains the piano. Fitkin himself has said that he enjoys the fact that you can play chords, harmony and counterpoint on it over a wide range of pitches. He points out that the music can't hide behind colouristic resources because of the black-and-white nature of the instrument. I myself would add to that statement that, precisely for that reason, and because the piano is such a mechanical instrument, it lends itself very well to this type of rhythmically cyclical, sequential and systemic music.

Take for example Circuit, the title piece of this CD, a long one movement work for two pianos and orchestra, composed for the two pianists on this recording. It is a perfect example of Fitkin's affinity for the piano and its percussive clockwork precision. It begins with the most basic and repetitive patterns, but eventually builds to become an intricate and complex display of various patterns and sequences mixing together to form a vortex of activity that grabs your attention and won't let go until the end. At certain points it's like listening to the soundtrack of a thrilling action movie, and the two pianists definitely have their work cut out for them as the music relentlessly moves forward and picks up momentum as it goes along.

The other works on this CD consist mostly of pieces for solo piano or two pianos. Titles like T1, T2, Furniture, Carnal, Relent, From Yellow to Yellow, should give you an indication of the variety of moods on display here. From Yellow to Yellow for example, which lasts only 1:33, is very quiet and aloof, while some of the other pieces are sometimes punchy and tense. Some people have described Fitkin's piano music as a kind of minimalist jazz, which I don't think quite fits. Sometimes it does in fact acquire a kind of barrelhouse boogie pattern in the left hand with a counteracting punchy right hand, somewhat resembling the Keith Emerson antics during live concerts, but I wouldn't tag it as jazz. It is more like strict repetitive patterns meet free improvisation.

The BIS recording captures all the bustling activity of Circuit very well, and it is encouraging to see a well established label such as BIS exploring different avenues, which in turn enriches our listening experience by presenting us with music by composers other than Mozart. From Bach Motets conducted by Suzuki to the music of Graham Fitkin, quite the portfolio for a classical label.

The video clip below is from a "live" performance of Circuit, featuring the same pianists, but with a different orchestra and conductor.

Jean-Yves Duperron