To call a piano composition “a book of colours” does rather underline the black-and-white basis of the instrument and, given the rich textural imagination of Simon Holt’s music for various ensembles and for orchestra, a disc of nothing but piano music might leave you feeling that something essential is missing. Fortunately, this programme is substantial and varied enough to prove satisfying – colouristically as well as conceptually – in its own terms.
That’s because it gives a good work-out to the most distinctive aspect of Holt’s take on musical expressionism – the Spanish flavour that results from allusions to writers and painters like Lorca and Goya, with Picasso, Miró and others in the background. Moreover, as is very clear in “Some Distant Chimes” from A Book of Colours, and also in Nigredo, Holt’s Spanishness is never more seductive than when touches of impressionistic understatement weave their way into the music’s steadily, subtly evolving forms.
Arnold Whittall, Gramophone, 10/1/2009
Simon Holt’s piano output is small, and most of it is on this CD. Earliest is Tauromaquia, and although there are echoes of Messiaen in its textures, as well as in its clarity and certainty, its harmonic world is at a tangent, and its narrative thread, inspired by Goya’s studies of bullfighting, far from Messiaen’s monolithic structures.
Black Lanterns and Nigredo are also single-movement works, both expanding from small beginnings into areas of virtuosity which are effortlessly negotiated by Rolf Hind. He brings a richness of texture and rhythmic inevitability to the music, backed up by the natural sound of the Potton Hall acoustic.
In Klop’s Last Bite, Hind surmounts a different problem: to characterise the 11 miniatures that make up the story of Klop the bedbug and his adversary the mad flea. Sometimes there’s as much silence as sound, but also lush harmonies as Klop dreams of warm blood, and an overweening chorale as he gets above himself. Not to mention the wild attacks of the flea.
The five pieces in a book of colours are more substantial, and, although written separately, they form a satisfying set, whose disparate moods are drawn together by the longer final movement, before subsiding into the dust
Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine, 10/1/2009