Sleevenotes from Prima Facie Records PFCD188 Penlynn: the collected solo piano music of Peter Reynolds
“This disc is dedicated to the memory of a very fine composer and good friend, Peter Reynolds. His unexpected death in 2016 was felt far and wide amongst his friends and colleagues, and has left a gap not only in the world of contemporary classical music, and in the academic realms of music education, but also in many peoples’ lives too. This exceptionally unassuming man was a very fine composer and an avid supporter of other musicians, both as a teacher and as a champion of performances and recordings of new and neglected works.
Penllyn is the culmination and premiere recording of not only all of Peter’s found works for solo piano, which needed tracking down at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and at Tŷ Cerdd in Cardiff, but is also an outpouring of love from many of those who knew Peter best. So many of his friends and past students have come together to enable this recording project to come to fruition. Wherever you are now Peter, we hope that you’re happy with this disc. You are sorely missed!”
Information on the works
When I asked Duncan Honeybourne to join me in this project to record the solo piano works of Peter Reynolds, he jumped at the opportunity, and was really eager to explore further a composer he greatly admired. I wanted in particular to get Duncan’s reaction to this music. “Several things were unsurprising to me: that Peter’s music was succinct; that it was immaculately crafted with no note out of place; and that there was an overarching integrity, sense of atmosphere and an ever-present refinement in the musical language. Overall, I’ve found every single piece immensely rewarding, and beautifully laid-out for the piano, demonstrating a real understanding of the instrument’s expressive potential.” Those words by Duncan, succinct, immaculately crafted and atmosphere, pervade all of Peter’s music, of which this disc starts with a selection.
One of the most endearing facets of Peter’s music I noticed as I began my research, is how often his works have been dedicated to his friends, or written for a specific momentous occasion in their lives. Epithalamion was composed as a wedding gift for Peter Harding and Ruth Garnault in 2011. Peter Reynolds and Ruth worked closely together, sharing an office at the Wales Millennium Centre for about five years where he programmed events in the public space until around 2007. The title, quite typical of Peter, is mischievous as an epithalamion is a poem written to celebrate marriage, suffused with suggestive language and innuendo. However, as it was a Quaker wedding, space and stillness also permeate this work.
This is followed by Penllyn, composed for, and dedicated to, Duncan Honeybourne in 2016. Peter and Duncan first met two years before when Duncan premiered my own music in Cardiff, and Peter approached me for my thoughts on collaborating with Duncan himself. The outcome, Penllyn, has the starting point of a Welsh hymn tune called Penllyn by Dafydd Siencyn Morgan. As Duncan says, “Peter sent me a copy of the hymn tune in his own hand, and he kept me posted on his progress. I was thrilled when it arrived, and I’ve loved playing it ever since. Peter’s sudden death, so soon after its completion and premiere, lent added poignancy to this deeply satisfying and moving little essay in tone colour, shifting harmony and darkly-etched cantabile lines.”
Another gift from Peter, is his beautiful and programmatic triptych Far down in the forest. It was written in 2011 for Charlotte, the daughter of Peter Esswood and Alison Mears, both friends and colleagues of his through the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and the Lower Machen Festival. These three highly imaginative works are full of charm and are typical of Peter’s writing, creating great beauty through poise and simplicity.
The first section exploring the works of Peter Reynolds ends with Bayvil, a more substantial work also composed that same year, 2011. Its inspiration comes from a small country church near to the Pembrokeshire coast, called Bayvil. The church is non-conformist, and is built with plainness and simplicity in mind. This sacred structure resonates in Peter’s music, which is full of space and light, a sense of timelessness and spirituality. Duncan goes on to say, “there’s what I might call a spacious simplicity, with a piquant sense of inner, inexorable movement, like a heartbeat or lapping waves on the sea…..very Celtic, perhaps, and very Peter!”
Our disc takes a brief intermission from the distinctive world of Peter Reynolds, for music by another friend and collaborator of his who joined me to assist in the making of this disc, David Power. I think David is the best person to sum up his Seven Afterthoughts. “I am one of those composers who always like to have a new piece on the go. In 2020 I decided to write some February piano pieces. Almost immediately that suggested the idea of doing piano pieces throughout the year, and by the end of 2020 I had a 40-minute multi-movement work which I called Piano Year. After all that I thought it’d certainly be a very long time before I’d want to write yet more piano music! And then some ideas came and I wrote a piece called Afterthought. Then more ideas came until I had enough to make Seven Afterthoughts.” When I came to produce this disc and explored David’s music, on paper rather like Peter’s music, there is a certain sparseness in front of you. However, in performance there is an entire other level, a complexity in achieving the desired atmospheric results. Recording this set of evocative miniatures in a spacious and resonant church setting as the daylight ebbed away, was a huge pleasure.
Returning once again to the music of Peter Reynolds, this disc continues in a cheeky fashion with Ein Kleines Albumblatt für Bären. Written in 2015 as another gift for “Phil and Michael on their wedding day”, the title is in German because of Michael’s origins. Peter, challenging Michael’s views on the music of Wagner, also references the opera Tristan und Isolde which, as Duncan says, is “cleverly and subtly done.” There is more than a touch of humour here though too. Phil and Peter had been friends since college days, and Peter often stayed with Phil and Michael near York over Christmas time. One evening whilst enjoying a bottle of wine, they got to discussing labels within gay culture, specifically “bears”, and then went on to reminisce and sing The Teddy Bears’ Picnic. This favourite song from their youth is interwoven throughout the piece and Peter even squeezes in a tiny reference to Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two).
Two years earlier, in 2013, Peter was ruminating over the works of the Italian late Renaissance/early Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi. Ecco Mormorar L’onde takes Monteverdi’s madrigal of the same name as a starting point. The original sets words by Torquato Tasso evoking the murmur of waves in the early morning as day breaks. Peter’s work evokes a bleaker foreground, with Monteverdi’s madrigal coming progressively to the surface. “It’s so cleverly disguised” Duncan comments “to be almost imperceptible, but that emotional impulse and starting point nonetheless pervades the work. Peter was a supremely cultivated and modest musician, and it’s so interesting to note how actively he referenced other composers in his works.” The librettist Tasso suffered from a persecution complex, and there is a darker and tortured side to this work too, retreating in the end into the lyricism of the madrigal.
Two earlier works now complete this second section exploring the solo piano music of Peter Reynolds, and both were composed in 2009. To begin, a Lullaby, which was written for Peter’s godson “Daniel, on the day of his christening.” For the first time within Peter’s piano scores, I found a footnote saying that this could be performed by “organ, piano, or any two suitable instruments”. Daniel was baptised in a Methodist church, so Peter probably saw the potential of this work being performed on the piano, or on a small chamber organ, often found in smaller chapels and churches. Also, the possibility of two“suitable instruments” was probably because Peter knew that Daniel’s mother Gail, played the violin. Peter was so meticulous in his compositional process, that with this work, he thought of many possible performance outcomes.
In One Spot, on the other hand, was written with a public concert performance in mind. Composed for the pianist David Appleton, David became involved in performing several of Peter’s pieces in Cardiff in the 1990s, and their friendship continued from there. Nearly twenty years later, David undertook a project for the Enterprise Festival at The Space in a tiny converted church on the Isle of Dogs, London. The project was called “Bartok; Subject and Reflection”, and In One Spot was commissioned amongst works by other composers for the second half of the concert, featuring music with links to any aspect of Bartók’s life and music. We can perhaps hear this connection to Bartók in the atmosphere and stillness that Peter creates.
The second intermission from the world of Peter Reynolds turns to my own music. I frequently visited Peter in Cardiff where we both lived, to discuss the compositions I was developing at the time. Oceanic Interludes is the next step on from my “epiphanal” work, as Peter called it, Flowing Waters. I’ve long been greatly influenced by the world of late romanticism and 20th century minimalism, which can be clearly heard in both works, as can my passion for programmatic music and the imagery of the sea. Refractions of Light evokes the glimmering of the sun on a vast aquamarine ocean, before diving into the murky depths of the cold abyss of the ocean in Deep Sea Dreaming. The sequence ends with The Shoal where, through pianistic twists and turns in the water evoking the swimming of large groups of fish, the final outlook evolves to one of change and hope. Duncan commented upon the “emotional drive” and “notes of introspection” which can be clearly heard in this triptych, for they were composed during the global pandemic. However as I said, the final outlook is one of positivity and hope.
The disc has to end with more music by Peter Reynolds. As an encore, we close with Peter’s earliest found work for solo piano, a Tango from 1992, dedicated to Gareth Davies. It’s a highly quirky and, as the title suggests, rhythmic work. Producing these two recording sessions I was aware that out of all the music presented here, this work was going to be quite a challenge for both pianist and producer. It’s a descriptive piece depicting an ever-fluctuating dance, with dramatic changes in time-signature and tempo. For Duncan, it evokes “somewhere hot and sunny, probably by the sea, with orange groves nearby, and with plenty of fun and frolics, and perhaps a little flirtation too!”
Luke Whitlock, 2022
Peter Reynolds’ compositional output ranges across many genres from orchestral and song, to chamber music and works for solo piano. His opera The Sands of Time won him a place in the Guinness World Records in 1993 as the shortest ever opera, and his music has been performed and broadcast around the world.
Born in Cardiff in 1958, he went on to undertake degrees at Cardiff University. He received a bursary to study with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in 1984, Morton Feldman in 1986 and Gordon Crosse in 1987, all at the famed Dartington International Summer School in Devon. In 1986 he was given a Michael Tippett Award for Composition, and also a Glanville Jones Award for Outstanding Achievement in Welsh Music (Welsh Music Guild).
Peter Reynolds formed the Cardiff-based PM Music Ensemble in 1990, and was also its Artistic Director. A busy decade, for he was also Director of the Splott Ladies Choir, became Artistic Director of the Lower Machen Festival, 1997-2009, and in 1994 joined the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama as a part-time member of academic staff, teaching both undergraduates and postgraduates. From 2002 until his death he also tutored in composition there too. This passion for artistically programming events also continued into the twenty-first century when Peter worked at the Wales Millennium Centre for five years until 2007, creating events at the public space there. For a number of decades he was a pivotal figure in Welsh music.
Peter Reynolds never stopped composing, and from 2010 until 2013 he was the composer-in- residence with Dyfed Young Composers. He was also awarded a Creative Wales award from the Arts Council of Wales to develop a new work, 2013-14. Reynolds was highly active in another sphere of classical music, and that was as a writer. In 2009 he published a history of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. He also wrote for periodicals including the Wales Arts Review, Opera Now, Tempo and the online Bachtrack. Peter’s name was frequently seen by concert goers in Cardiff, as he wrote countless programme notes for concerts given by many distinguished orchestras and ensembles.
Peter Reynolds died unexpectedly in 2016 at his home in Cardiff. However his music lives on and can be heard recorded on Meridian, Signum, Tŷ Cerdd, Grand Piano and Prima Facie.
Luke Whitlock, 2022
Duncan Honeybourne enjoys a diverse profile as a pianist and in music education. Following his concerto debuts at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the National Concert Hall, Dublin, he made recital debuts in London, Paris, and at international festivals in Belgium and Switzerland. Commended by International Piano magazine for his “glittering performances”, he has toured extensively as soloist and chamber musician, broadcasting frequently on BBC Radio 3 and worldwide. Many recordings reflect his long association with 20th and 21st century British piano music.
Peter Reynolds by Duncan Honeybourne
“I knew Peter Reynolds for little more than two years – the last two years of his sadly truncated life – but he made a distinctive and enduring impression. I met him first in Cardiff, where I gave a recital of twentieth and twenty-first century music curated by Luke Whitlock. Peter struck me immediately as engaging and lively company, and we found much to talk about. Soon afterwards I was approached by David Power with a view to recording a disc of hitherto unrecorded British piano miniatures, for which the inclusion of pieces by both Power and Reynolds was envisaged. This led to a meeting in London which involved extensive discussion of repertoire and culminated in the three of us retiring to a nearby pub for further cogitation and conversation. Ideas and refreshment flowed in a warm-hearted spirit of co-operation and imaginative energy. Always fascinated by the heritage of his native Wales, Peter wrote a set of pieces for the disc – Cippyn – evoking the mystery of the Welsh coastline. They are for piano and electronics: a new departure for Peter, apparently, and certainly for me! It was an illuminating and inspiring experience to work collaboratively with Peter in preparing these pieces, about which he had thought so creatively.
Peter didn’t live to see that particular recording issued, but he had a further musical gift for me: in August 2016 I had been invited to give a recital for the Late Music series in St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York, and Peter declared he was going to write me a new piece to premiere on that occasion. He took an old Welsh hymn tune, Penllyn, around which he crafted a typical Reynolds masterpiece, a bejewelled essay in economy in which every note counts and each harmony shimmers.
The Saturday lunchtime recital was a memorable occasion, and so was the day that followed. Peter introduced me to several friends, and we all lunched together in a York hostelry. During the afternoon we roamed the streets of York and discovered a shared passion for antiquarian bookshops. Together we were thrown out of one at closing time, and we repaired to that Yorkshire institution, Betty’s Café, for tea and cakes. Peter’s company was stimulating, his conversation revelatory, racy and witty in equal measure. As we parted company after attending an evening concert, followed by a drink in a local pub, we looked forward both to the impending release of Cippyn on CD and to many future meetings.
Just two months later, Peter died suddenly. At his funeral in Cardiff I reconnected with friends of his I’d met in York, and I chatted with others I hadn’t. I was grateful I’d known this remarkable man and formidable musician, albeit for a short time. And I’m so touched that he had written his last piano piece for me. At my 40th birthday recital at St James’ Piccadilly in November 2017, I gave Cippyn its London premiere in Peter’s memory. I’m honoured to have worked with him, and I love his music. Preparing Peter’s earlier piano works for this recording has been a privilege, a journey of rich discovery and a labour of love.”
Duncan Honeybourne, 2022
David Power’s initial interest was rock music, however, the electronic instrumentals on David Bowie’s ‘Berlin’ albums led him to more experimental music. In the late 1990’s Power wrote Eight Miniatures for Piano and these saw him adopt a simpler, more direct tone which continues to this day. With works widely performed and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 plus national networks in Austria, Hong Kong and the Republic of Ireland, the music of Power also appears on several CDs including the Delta Saxophone Quartet’s Bowie, Berlin and Beyond and Duncan Honeybourne’s 100 years of British piano miniatures. This latter CD is included in the suggested further listening of Paul Morley’s book A Sound Mind. Power’s biggest success to date is online. His Piano Miniature No 2 has secured over 2 million streams worldwide and is the Naxos Grand piano label’s fifth most Spotify streamed track. www.davidpowercomposer.co.uk
Peter Reynolds by David Power
“I first met Peter at Michael Parkin’s short lived Go West Festival in 1995. We got on well enough and stayed vaguely in touch. Three years later I got a job in the Newport City Council’s Arts Development Team and moved to Wales. I contacted Peter. Soon we were working together on projects – notably getting his PM Music Ensemble to York for concerts – and meeting socially at the Chapter Arts Centre for drinks. Peter’s encyclopaedic knowledge of music and many other subjects meant there was always plenty to talk about.
Over the years I worked on a number of projects with Peter – he gave an excellent talk on British Song at the 20th and 21st century song day that I curated in Lincolnshire in 2011. This led us to collaborate on the 2012 CD Songs Now: British Songs of the 21st Century. A few years later, I had the idea of a CD covering a hundred years of British Piano Miniatures. I contacted Peter about this and he suggested Duncan Honeybourne who turned out to be ideal – over two thirds of the music on the CD is from Duncan’s collection. I was delighted when Peter decided his own contribution would include electronics, an entirely new departure for him. The CD has done very well but this is a little bitter sweet for me as Peter himself did not live to see it finished.
One of the most striking things about Peter was his selfless generosity. One might say he promoted everyone’s music but his own but that is not quite true. He was very serious about his own compositions and, in the right circumstances would include some of his own work. I am sure he would’ve been delighted with this CD.”
David Power, 2022
Luke Whitlock leads a busy life as both composer, and also producer for BBC Radio 3. Having studied at Dartington College of Arts and then on to the Royal College of Music, he has gone on to work for Hollywood as an orchestrator, for the RCM in artistic programming and event management, as well as teaching for the RWCMD, adjudicating for the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and leading seminars at various universities around the UK. For the last 15 years Whitlock has been primarily employed by BBC Radio 3 as a Producer, including reaching his 100th edition of Composer of the Week, Lead Producing two Diversity related projects for the network, as well as broadcasting operas and concerts. More recently he studio produced the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in recording the soundtrack to the TV series Wonders of the Celtic Deep, and has also started presenting radio programmes for the BBC World Service.
Peter Reynolds by Luke Whitlock
“Peter Reynolds first came into my life at the Lower Machen Festival when I was attending a concert there around 2008. I can clearly recall his bubbly and genuine personality. We then frequently met at concerts in Cardiff, and he soon became my compositional mentor for a number of years.
Peter was an exceptionally generous man, and I shall always remember my frequent visits to his home where we’d explore my latest composition. Sat in his dining room when we were discussing some musical matter, he’d frequently dash off to grab a score or two to check something, or to make a musical point. His knowledge was vast, but given my BBC preoccupation with neglected composers I often looked for a composer he’d never heard of. I think I may have only ever achieved this once.
Peter became a good friend, often discussing topics over a glass of wine, or inviting me to the premiere of his own works. It was in 2016 at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama when I last saw Peter. The National Youth Choir of Wales was performing my Three Scenes from Wales, and in his typical unassuming way, Peter found me at the end of the concert to not only say how much he enjoyed hearing my music, but that he should now take lessons from me on writing for the voice. I was very touched by that comment, which Peter genuinely meant. A week or so later I messaged Peter to arrange a catch-up. A few days before our meeting at his home, I received the news that he’d died. I’d lost a good friend.
I was fortunate to receive a number of scores and books belonging to Peter after he passed, and one in particular describes a selection of the smallest churches in Wales. Peter has annotated this book ticking off which he’d been to visit and explore. In due course I intend to follow in his footsteps, creating a suite of works inspired by this journey, and the sacred locations en route.”
Luke Whitlock, 2022
Alexander Thacker; Phil & Michael Thomas; Cathy Morris; Jeremy Badcock; David & Jo Jaggard; Philip Richards-May; Chris Weeks; York Late Music.
Ben Lunn; Benjamin Teague; William Rhys Meek; Ruth & Peter Harding; Vivien Roworth; Debbie Wiseman; Ian & Moira Spence; Tic Ashfield-Fox; Dr Atahualpa Castillo Morales; Dr Timothy Raymond; David Lancaster; Geoff Atkins; Robert Spearing; Amy Wheel; Christina Macaulay; Douglas Orton; James Harder; George Kallis; Stephanie Fowler; Jonathan Manners; Ian Jones; Anna McClure; Lis Collins; Melanie McLeod; Marcus Collings; Steve Crowther; David J. Smith; Natalie Paynter; Nicola Cogan; Alison Mears Esswood; Lynne Plowman; Cathy Stevens; Clive Jenkins; Michael Hughes; David Llewellyn; Emily Gray; Wayne Vincent; Jeremy Wells; Christopher Petrie; John Hardy; Chris Fry (Ms); Keith Whitlock; Andrea & Nobby Bray; David Appleton; John & Nicola Whitlock; Charlotte & Hyan; Deborah Preston; Angela Tillcock.
Our thanks also to The National Library of Wales, and Tŷ Cerdd for their assistance in the making of this recording.
If you’d like to support future recording projects undertaken by Luke Whitlock, then please do contact him directly via his website www.lukewhitlock.com
Recorded at Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hereford, UK 14th November 2021 & 23rd January 2022 Producer Luke Whitlock
Engineer Steve Plews
Editor Phil Hardman
Peter Reynolds photo copyright Phil Thomas
Cover image copyright Linda Ingham