By Colin Clarke
A. GRIFFITHS Reveries I-lll. Rhapsody & Fantasia. Three Meditations. 2/3rd Fugue. A Touch of Tango. Motif & Variations. Till we meet again « Evgeny Ukhanov (pn) ¢ ALAN GRIFFITHS 93451950066067 (63:03) Available for download at www.griffithscomposer.com
The music of Malawi-born, Canberra-based composer Alan Griffiths has a wide reach but its basis is remarkably easy on the ear. Self-taught from the age of 13 and later developing under the guidance of Michael Easton and Allan Zavod, Griffiths claims influences in his music from Fauré to Penderecki via Shostakovich, Gershwin and particularly Rachmaninoff, to name but a few.
The vein of sadness that runs through Reverie II, the first piece we hear, is palpable. Written in 1990, the work was later dedicated to the composer’s brother, Michael Dennis Griffiths, who died tragically young in 2016. A songful elegy, the influence of Rachmaninoff seems particularly pronounced; Reverie I from the preceding year is more wide-ranging emotionally, including a decidedly Rachmaninoff -like section (is there a reference to the Corelli Variations’); as if to confirm the pull this composer has over Griffiths, the Reverie III is suffused with Rachmaninoff’s spirit; yet Satie seems to hover in the background, curiously, which gives the music a most fascinating demeanour. The Rhapsody & Fantasia of 1989 effectively contrasts angst with sweet reminiscence. The performances of both, by Ukrainian-Australian pianist Evgeny Ukhanov, are beautifully shaped. The recording of the Steinway piano sound is clear and detailed.
The Three Meditations is a composite piece, the first composed in 1990, the remaining two in 1997. They run together smoothly, however; more interesting perhaps is the tricky 2/3rd Fugue: the piece is tripartite, the outer sections of which are fugal, encasing a gentler central span that is non-imitative. Ukhanov despatches the piece superbly, with complete command.
The wit of A Touch of Tango (again with Rachmaninoff references, this time the G-Minor Prelude, op. 23/5 transmogrified into said tango) is wonderful. A measure of the rapport and trust between Ukhanov and Griffiths is that a passage of music was cut in this piece on the journey towards the final edit at the suggestion of the pianist (this related in a radio interview with Griffiths on the Art FM radio station programme Artcetera).
A nice touch, too, to have a Motif and Variations instead of a “Theme and Variations”. Composed specifically for Ukhanov, it is described as a “work in progress”: instead of a theme, an eight-note motif forms the basis for exploration. The motif originated in a 1995 film score (a New Zealand short called The Weeping Doe) and will eventually explode out into a full-blown piano concerto for Ukhanov. The booklet includes a call-out from Griffiths for any individuals or organizations interested in commissioning this concerto. At nearly a quarter of an hour, Motif & Variations is the most ambitious piece on the disc and shows how Griffiths can move easily from one mode of expression to another seamlessly.
Originally intended as a farewell to listeners, the 1991 piece Till we meet again took on a different tint when the composer’s brother died. Its mood links to that of the first piece on the disc, Reverie II, as if a journey has come to a satisfying end.
A glance at Griffiths’ output reveals a number of film or documentary scores (14 documentaries and two feature films) and one can see how his music, so flexible and expressive, would fit this mode of expression well. But his music has a lot to say on its own merits, as this most inviting album reveals. Colin Clarke