Edmund Finnis: Youth (EP review)

A vibrant piece of new music, stunningly performed and recorded

Edmund Finnis: Youth (EP review)

We met Edmund Finnis before on Classical Explorer: his String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Devotions (String Quartet No. 3); and via another EP, Manchester Collective's Recreation.

Here, we have a release entitled Youth: piano works by Finnis, performed by Clare Hammond. The EP opens with the piece from which it takes its name, Youth, It is described in the accompanying documentation as

... a set of brief pieces recalling an image, sensation of place, significant encounter or a moment of vivid perception. Each musical image is conveyed as clearly and directly as possible, written for the piano in a focused, uncluttered, personal

... and here is the composer himself on the piece (from Finnis's website):

These are the first pieces I have composed for solo piano. Many of the sounds, patterns and ideas within them have been in my mind and under my hands for a long time. The brief pieces variously include performance directions like ‘intimate’, ‘spacious’, ‘with childlike simplicity’, ‘as if improvising’. Each one seems to me now like a specific memory of an image, a sensation of place, a significant encounter, or a moment of vivid perception. I wanted above all to convey each musical image as clearly and directly as possible, and to write for the piano in a focused, uncluttered, personal way.
Youth is dedicated to my nieces and nephews.

The first movement, “Bloom,’ strikes me as a post-Romantic beauty, a sort of distorted hybrid of Schumann and Brahms. Hammond’s playing is lovely, deeply resonant in the bass, flowing,

Appropriately, “Spin” provides rotating musical material, a series of musical ouroboroi, magical in effect:

The third, of the utmost fragility (listen to how Hammod performed the chords so perfectly together and with the ideal, almost celestial tone) is “Frankenthaler,” presumably a reference to the painter Helen Franknthaler (1928-2011). This is music frozen, beautifully, in time, with tonal references used to fine effect by Finnis:

“Stream of Days” is indeed a stream of notes once post-romantic and quasi-Minimalist. It sounds a joy to play:

Personally, I hear bells in “Serried Ridges,” the fifth movement:

The enigmatic title of the next movement, “Countless Slip,” presumably refers to a financial district in Manhattan. The music seems to see to interrupt itself, to breach its bounds, using to an almost ecstatic climax:

.Another painterly reference follows (and coincidentally to one of my favourite artists): “Hammershøi Windows”. And just like that painter, Finnis’ music is timeless. Hammond's unhurried pacing seems just perfect:

.I assume “Buren” is a reference therefore to an other painter Daniel Buren, born 1938 in Boulougne-Billancourt (the area which coincidentally houses La Seine Musicale, the home of Insula Orchestra - an ensemble that has cropped up multiple times on this site!). The music flows in droplets in Hammond's performance: she also finds beautiful inner lines (without a score I can't tell whether Finnis notates these, but I assume so):

“Heath” concentrates on the individuality of individual simultaneities in a sort of post-Debussian manner:

Of course, the title of “Helsinki Patterns” immediately leads one to expect Minimalism, and indeed this centres on repetition, albeit here of a slowly unravelling kind. It is truly lovely:

Here is a live performance of the premiere on March 12, 2018, from the Guildhall's Milton Court:

Hammond has said of this piece that:

Ed and I initially discussed working together on a new piece when we were students at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It took us 10 years to find the right opportunity, but was well worth the wait! This music is relatively simple but seems immediately to touch the heart. It is beautifully evocative, moving, and stays with you long after hearing it. I gave the premiere at Milton Court in the Barbican, have performed it across the UK (including for a BBC Radio 3 live broadcast), and shall be playing it again at the Harrogate International Music Festival on the 24 March 2024. “Youth” has become a very important piece for me and I feel honoured to have been involved in its creation.

The EP closes with Lullaby for Emmeline, commissioned by Hammond and her husband on the occasion of their daughter’s birth. The piece is delicious in its melding of surface simplicity with depth and underlying complexity, and Hammond's performance is enchanting:

The last word should got other composer, surely:

It’s a great joy to be able to share this first release of my music for solo piano. Since I was young, the keys of the piano have always been for me a private space in which to think, invent and dream. Many of the sounds and ideas within this collection of short pieces have been in my mind and under my fingers for a long time. They are like memories. I’m indebted to my friend Clare Hammond for the artistry, grace and lucidity she brings to this personal music.

Incidentally, this short interview with the composer on the British Council's website acts as a useful introduction to Finnis and his music.

A vibrant piece of new music, stunningly performed and recorded.