With a dramatic flourish, Nicolas Hodges introduces Beethoven’s Fantasy (Opus 77) and goes on to parade the work’s multifaceted nature with relish as well as superb playing, recorded, as throughout this notable release, with exemplary presence and clarity in November last year at WDR Cologne. There follows Harrison Birtwistle’s Variations from the Golden Mountain (2014), opening as if electrified before settling to spare if compelling commentaries, Webern-esque in their economy yet with a restlessness that sustains the ten-minute whole and including some striking fortissimo staccatos.
Hodges, as brilliant (in IV) as he is poetic (V), goes on to make a lovely job of Beethoven’s Opus 126 Bagatelles, six gems, and contrasts this special set with Birtwistle’s Gigue Machine (2011), rapid and rhythmic figures viewed from different angles and musical possibilities for a productive fifteen minutes.
This stimulating recital, on Wergo WER 6810 2, and including an illuminating booklet essay by Tom Service (for him these paired composers are “the patron saints of the unpredictable”), concludes with a brace of miniatures – Beethoven’s charming B-minor Allegretto (WoO61) and Birtwistle’s witty Dance of the metro-gnome (2006), click-track and the pianist’s vocals to the fore. Birtwistle attended the sessions, these pieces recorded for the first time.