Michael Kieran Harvey is one of Australia’s great pianists, his virtuoso technique evident in performances of music by Carl Vine. He tackles the most challenging pieces imaginable, his repertoire lying primarily in the contemporary sphere.
This disc is a collection of Harvey’s own works, premiered between 2007 and 2013. Each involves piano, but Harvey is joined by cellist Alister Barker in Kursk, violinist Natsuko Yoshimoto in Fear, percussionist Eugene Ughetti in Homage to Liszt, trumpeter Tristram Williams in Etude for Trumpet, and clarinetist Ashley William Smith in City of Snakes. All are skillful musicians.
I hate to be negative about an Australian release – there are so few – but for me, this is not an easy program to love. Harvey’s piano writing is so taxing it comes across as a relentless series of physical feats to be mastered. Kursk was inspired by an incident involving an explosion in a Russian nuclear submarine, but obvious effects – such as fortissimo clusters in the piano’s bass register – lack subtlety. Fear starts sweetly but Harvey so deconstructs the music that we are left dangling. In Homage to Liszt, the spiritual side of the old master eludes him entirely. City of Snakes provides five minutes of hyperactive jazz.
Everybody is working very hard here, including the composer. Maybe too hard.