By Michael Johnson
One of the more exciting piano experiences of recent years is the development of a 108-key grand piano in Australia, built by Stuart and Sons and expanded with additional octaves at bass and treble extremes. The sound is new and audiences who have witnessed it tend to erupt in standing ovations.
If you don’t live in southern Australia, you probably will not hear it in all its glory but it’s worth a detour. I have recently had the privilege of listening to a high-definition recording, at 96 KHz, to be exact, of the inaugural concert performed a few months ago. The effect of the expanded keyboard, known as the Big Beleura, is stunning to mind and body. I sat with a friend in his music room in Bordeaux, listening for an hour, flabbergasted.
Composer Alan Griffiths provided the music for the premiere concert, titled “Rare View”, excerpts of which can be heard on his website.
Griffiths offers a standard CD recording as well as a 96 KHz download facility.
The music itself is appealing and accessible in the context of contemporary composition, ranging from a mellow “Nocturn” to an adventurous and dissonant “2 Motifs – Smashed” that respond to each other as they develop. Rachmaninoff’s influence surfaces in some of the pieces, one of which, writes Griffiths, hints of a child’s music box and “adds a quirky element to this otherwise vigorous work”.
A self-taught composer, Griffiths’s style has a strong personal element, with dedications to close friends who have passed away. His writing reflects this individuality in unexpected and touching ways.
I found Griffiths at his most mature compositional form in “1st Trio, 1st Movement (Adventure)” which launches into a variant of Frederic Rzewski’s “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues” and moves smoothly into more quiet trio work with violinist Dominic Przywara and cellist George Wang.
“Duet for Piano and Cello” marked a turning point in his career when he learned to “write more freely”, he explains in the accompanying booklet. He found himself “unshackled by conformity” and his music blossomed, “exuding freedom to explore the relationship between the instruments”.
More is coming from Griffiths, a composer making his mark with originality and growing confidence.
See also a more extensive description of the Big Beleura piano here on Facts and Arts.