Hayden Album 'Substratum' reviewed in Gramophone by Pwyll ap Siôn (1/3/20)

See review in Gramophone by Pwyll ap Siôn (1/3/2020): here.

My first introduction to Sam Hayden’s music was in the back room of a low ceilinged bar at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival sometime in the late 1990s, where [rout] – the ensemble he established with fellow composers Paul Newland and Paul Whitty – blew away the cobwebs that clung to contemporary music with performances that were high in physical intensity and volume.

Two of the works featured on this disc, Relative Autonomy and Substratum, capture some of the pressurised energy of that concert. Premiered at the Proms in 2007, Substratum for large orchestra kicks off with fierce explosions of sound, endlessly remoulded and reshaped across a 25 minute timespan in what Hayden has described as the ‘proliferation of self-similar materials’. The work brings to mind the low-lying, densely shifting textures of Birtwistle’s Earth Dances and slowly evolving contours of Finnissy’s Red Earth, although the music’s sonic imprint is unmistakably Hayden’s own.

By contrast, an almost brittle pointillism characterises Relative Autonomy for 16 players – persistent, concentrated bursts often high up in the instruments’ registers that continually threatening to crack open its surface. The idea is developed still further in the 30 minute, seven-movement Transience for string quartet, completed in 2014. Dedicated to Hayden’s teacher, Jonathan Harvey, the work displays what Björn Heile refers to in an excellent set of booklet notes as the strongly gestural qualities that manifest themselves, where ‘gesture’ means not only the movements of the musicians themselves but also the musical shapes they produce. Quatuor Diotima manage this very well, producing a highly sculpted and crafted performance. These gestures take on more percussive forms on the bonus track Die Abkehr, available as a free download via NMC’s online store.

While Hayden’s aesthetic often generates highly animated, complex and concentrated structures, subdued moments also filter through in the string quartet, recalling earlier, more spectral-inspired works such as Presence/absence and Partners in Psychopathology: proof, perhaps, that the gestural substrata revealed in these works still hold future riches for the composer to mine.

Pwyll ap Siôn