EDWARD COWIE (b.1943): 24 Preludes for Piano.
Catalogue Number: 05X063
Reference: msv 28625
Description: This immensely attractive and extraordinarily inventive series of preludes in all the keys by the unclassifiable polymath Cowie deserves to be far better known. The breadth of character and expression in these succinct pieces is simply astonishing, which encapsulate many of the traits that make Cowie such an unique and remarkable figure. Scientific inquiry, a highly accomplished and original style of graphic art, an extensive study of the natural world, and an unerring ability to encapsulate the essence of a location or scenic tableau come together in these works to a greater extent, perhaps, than even in his other large cycles of pieces to epitomise his gift for evoking, with tangible or visual exactitude, the natural phenomena that inform most of the output of a composer who believes fervently that "Music is just one part of a vast interconnecting formal and cosmic dynamic; I am more inspired by natural history than musical history." The pieces are grouped in subgroups of six, each representing one of the four Classical elements; so the "Air" pieces evoke motion, from the gales that lash the coast of Cornwall, the peninsula that juts out from the British Isles into the Atlantic, to the lazy thermals over Portugal or the rarefied atmosphere over Java at 35000 feet. "Earth" is of course painterly representations of rugged, elemental scenery; "Fire" everything from sunrise and sunset to the man-made pyrotechnics of steelworks and fireworks, to the terrifying bush fires of Australia. Each prelude bears a title, which could easily be that of a painting - "Tennessee River", "Tapada (Portugal, thermal raptors)", "Blast Furnaces at Port Kembla Steel Works (Australia)" - and so in a very real sense, they are. The feeling of tonality is more consistently present here, perhaps, than in Cowie's other cycles, likely on account of the intent of the overall set, though as always with this composer, the range of harmonic freedom is very wide; the piano writing is of the highest order (Cowie is himself a more than capable pianist), and highly inventive in terms of texture while remaining within the boundaries of (challenging!) conventional technique. A truly wonderful and enrapturing set of pieces. This release is a most welcome reissue of a 2008 CD put out by the UHR label of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, which presumably did not enjoy especially wide distribution and which has been unavailable for many years. Philip Mead (piano).