Dark Formations

Release Date 25 June 2012

In Quartet, the use of the materials was so clear and simple - and made so fascinating by the rhythmic and of course modal diversions...I was very struck by the economy of the work, and its fascinating complexity - a delightful piece that should be played often. In the darkness and poetics of Dark Formations...I was drawn to the timbres, the ambiguities of the bass clarinet and piano writing; I was very impressed by the approach - a powerful meditation.

Jonathan Harvey, composer

Metier MSV 28530

Quartet, Chamber Concerto, Dark Formations, Strike!, Sextet, Light Cuts Through Dark Skies, Orchids (complete), A Buried Flame

New Music Players conducted by Patrick Bailey | Richard Casey, solo piano | New Music Vocal Ensemble conducted by John Hancorn

Fully illustrated 24 page booklet with essays by Richard Casey and David Chandler (extract), and photographs by Imperial War Museum, Joris Ivens Foundation, Ed Hughes, and Andrew Venn

Metier MSV 28530 - 2 CD set

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Comments, feedback and reviews

'...Evolving between 1990 and 2002, Orchids constitutes a sequence that, while written individually and with six different pianists in mind, affords a convincing overview of Hughes’s development – moving from contrapuntal lucidity, through harmonic astringency and lyrical polyphony, then inward speculation and combative energy, to quixotic evocation. This latter’s allusions to most of the earlier pieces underlines the cogency of the collection as a whole. Heard in these terms there have been few, if any, recent British piano works to compare with this in expressive scope, which is hardly less true in vocal terms of A Buried Flame (2010). This four-part sequence juxtaposes Psalm 69 with poems by former and ongoing detainees at Guantanamo Bay in powerful yet never histrionic investigation of physical incarceration and spiritual alienation. It is a measure, too, of Hughes’s sensitivity that the texts never draw attention to themselves outside of their musical context.

'Throughout both of these discs, performances are as committed and attentive to the music’s frequently understated demands as might be expected from ensembles of the calibre of the New Music Players and New Music Vocal Ensemble. Special mention must be made of Richard Casey, who, besides writing most of the detailed and informative booklet notes, proves no less adept and sympathetic as a pianist. The recordings, though made over more than a decade, fully convey this music’s clarity and intricacy, making for a release that can be warmly recommended for its persuasive overview of a composer for whom a wider reputation ought not be long in coming.' Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review, 1 January 2013

'[Ed Hughes] 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...The chamber concerto and sextet are purely instrumental works... 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... 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.' American Record Guide 1 December 2012 

'Ed Hughes is a composer with an individual voice and a concise way of saying what he has to say. His music is compelling... The hushed performance of Dark Formations here is remarkable in its glowering intensity... The performance of A Buried Flame is simply outstanding...it remains a powerful statement and one that reverberates long after the music finishes. From that standpoint, it is the perfect way to end a most stimulating release. I do urge you to hear this.' Colin Clarke, music critic - Fanfare Magazine 1 November 2012

'Ed's CD sounds absolutely fantastic!' Rowland Sutherland, flautist & composer - Rowland's website is here

'I have been listening to the CD and find it delightful. I am particularly enjoying the Chamber Concerto and the Orchid pieces... I like the shifts between tonality, poly tonality and seeming atonality... Lots of polyrhythms too. A joy to listen to...' Simon D'souza, saxophonist, composer, educator, music technologist - Simon's website is here

'Orchid 3 is incredibly haunting and beautiful.' Roger Morris, writer - Roger's website is here

'What amazing textures and complexity. I found the Chamber Concerto very engrossing - particularly following the way little fragments and motifs were thrown around the parts - there is something kaleidscopic about it. But the Quartet is my absolute favourite, the polyrhythms so often paired with lengthy evocative lines combing to create elongated and highly textured musical effects drawn out and developed over several minutes. The relationship between small scale and large scale is fascinating...' Joanna Marsh, composer - Joanna's website is here

'Ed Hughes' always-engaging music follows clear paths through exciting material. It has that important quality of making a listener truly confident of a composer; I find a consistent quality of driven and affective writing. Unafraid of the past whilst finding its own futures, the music evades the obvious whilst retaining an accessibile core. From the sensitive yet strong Orchids, through the hauntingly twisted madrigals of A Buried Flame, to the invigorating and richly scored works for various chamber formations, the double CD simply provides a host of delightful work, carefully portrayed by the talented musicians involved.' Nick Collins, composer, performer and researcher in computer music - Nick's website is here

'This is modern music for listeners 'with two ears' who enjoy contrapuntal music from Purcell to Bach to late Beethoven. Ed Hughes (b. 1968) is a contemporary British contrapuntalist of unique originality and instrumental flair...it is all given with consummate security and audibility, with rhythms "simultaneously complex and simple, distinctive, original and yet approachable" [Richard Casey]...I find the ensemble music irresistible.' Peter Grahame Woolf, critic - Musical Pointers

'Fascinating interwoven tapestries of sound weaving their way around each other makes this music constantly engaging for the listener. It is not often that you come across a musical landscape that is so rich in textures with intriguing rhythmical processes while remaining wonderfully accessible. A great achievement for both the composer and the musicians involved. I hope I have the opportunity to experience these pieces in a live setting, especially the Quartet, the Chamber Concerto and the superb Sextet.' Lee Newcombe, composer

'This 2 CD survey of Ed Hughes’ work over twenty years manages to traverse the widest musical landscape - from tonality to atonality and simplicity to complexity - while maintaining remarkable clarity of expression. The audible musical structures, often drawn from ancient architecture, are recast in a consistently recognisable and unique manner. But this music is more than just a modern take on harmony and counterpoint. The burning narrative behind A Buried Flame and the drive behind the Sextet are undeniable and have clearly energised the adept performers in the various combinations on display. Most of the accompanying booklet notes are written by the pianist Richard Casey, providing a superb insight not only into the works themselves, but also the infectious enthusiasm which has permeated his tremendous performance of the Orchids.' Adam Swayne, pianist, composer and conductor - Adam's website is here

'Ed's music on this CD covers quite a wide range, from the stormy, perpetual scherzo of the Chamber Concerto to the more elegiac Dark Formations and the delicate beauty of Light Cuts Through Dark Skies. The music is, for the most part, richly complex and multi-layered, with colourful contrasts and witty polyphonic interplay between strings and winds. It is meticulously crafted, with never a note wasted. Yet it is also quite emotionally direct, with plenty of attention given to musical surfaces. Some of the repetitive figures are catchy as hell and stay in your head for months! I am lucky enough to have experienced several of these pieces live in concert and this CD recording captures their essence perfectly. Ed engaged with contemporary political struggles in his moving choral protest piece, A Buried Flame, which closes this collection.' Tom Reid, composer