In Ictu Oculi – Orchestral Works by Kenneth Hesketh – BBCNOW/Christoph-Mathias Mueller [Paladino Music]

5 of 5 stars

Kenneth Hesketh
Knotted Tongues
Of Time and Disillusionment
In Ictu Oculi

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Christoph-Mathias Mueller

Recorded 19 & 20 September 2017 at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2018
Duration: 55 minutes



Kenneth Hesketh (born 1968 in Liverpool) can be relied upon to write challenging yet arresting pieces that inveigle the listener into a world at-once personal yet universal.

Take the opening of Knotted Tongues (2012/14, written for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Ludovic Morlot and based on Descartes’s theory of the “beast-machine”). Musically the effect is stunning, the ear immediately grabbed by gesture, colour and atmosphere, which soon erupts in an emotional outburst of sonic density. The listener is gripped and presented with the aural equivalent of a page-turner, music that reports unstableness, prone to powerful (schizophrenic?) flare-ups, leaning to the surreal, and orchestrated with a remarkable degree of complexity yet also lucidity: fifteen thrilling minutes.

Of Time and Disillusionment (2016) offers no-less a challenge in terms of musical thought – once again, the consumer is gratified – and this time the orchestra is “quasi-classical” (without low brass and the only percussion used are tubular bells, says the composer’s booklet note, so maybe the tinkling I hear is a glockenspiel-suggesting celesta). It’s a piece of contrasts – angular energy set against a rapt nocturne of expressive beauty, solo instruments to the fore throughout, and also plenty of variety. Designed as linear and symmetric (seven sections, the third being in three) the whole is – or seems – a tougher nut to crack than Knotted Tongues; that said Of Time and Disillusionment intrigues and has a strong call-back on one’s attention. I was a trifle concerned about the abrupt arrival of the final movement, which may be down to editing.

In Ictu Oculi (In the blink of an eye, 2017) consists of ‘Three meditations’ that flow one to another reflecting “upon the transience of time and that all things come to an end…”. This is music that laments – how well a soprano saxophone mourns (there appears to be a family of them in consort as part of the large-orchestra scoring) – and also rages, the more-lyrical expression (itself intangible) punctuated against, mighty climaxes built toward. This is a very distinctive and enthralling opus.

With the composer not only in attendance but also wearing the producer’s hat the performances and sound-quality (Phil Hardman) are both superb, BBCNOW and Christoph-Mathias Mueller doing Hesketh proud.

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