Once again (see links below) Kenneth Hesketh, born 1968 in Liverpool, issues a musical challenge that is beneficial to take up. Intricate and demanding Hesketh’s music may be, but the energy and staggered rhythms (reminding of Conlon Nancarrow) of ‘Inductio’, the opening of Three Movements from Theatrum (1996/2013), is enthralling, propelling us forward, continuously, through the exhilarating rapidity (the greater percentage) and beguiling bell-like lyricism of the remaining two sections. From there, and as its title might suggest, Notte Oscura (2002/13), taken from an opera that Hesketh has withdrawn, is shadowy and shivery, rising to intense anguish, painting a picture of “Gogol’s idea of St. Petersburg’s most powerful foe, the Northern cold...”. It’s an impressively suggestive piece.
There follow three tributes to fellow-composers. In 2011, Pour Henri was a homage to Henri Dutilleux on his ninety-fifth birthday; this tender vignette is played with sensitivity by Hesketh himself. Next is a compliment to Elliott Carter on his centenary in 2008. In titular terms What if? refers to Carter’s singular opera, and the word(s) bracketed is an amalgam of operatic German and (also German), opfer, that is a certain Offering by J. S. Bach; musically What if...? has its starburst qualities, perhaps in recognition that although aged 100 Carter was still busy composing (see Late Works, below) yet ends on a (what next?) quizzical note. By contrast The Lullaby of the Land Beyond is “in fond memory of Oliver Knussen” (composed the weekend after Knussen died in 2018 and added to the recording). It’s a sad and desolate opus, and once again Hesketh does the honours.
Finally, Diatoms (2011), the longest work here, if in four movements, a response to Atheist writings, including by Richard Dawkins; and, if listening to the disc as a whole, then Diatoms sums up Hesketh’s propensity for energy, volatility and listener-demands (you cannot listen to this music while otherwise occupied) ...; however, even allowing for ‘only’ forty-nine minutes of total playing time, maybe it’s best to approach Diatoms separately, similarly the to-composers trilogy, and also grouping the two opening works: for this is extravagantly detailed music that requires total concentration. If the recording, clear enough, is a little hard-edged, then the members of the The Green Duo are heroic in sorting out the music’s technical and compositional complexities.