Sporting life: Five Rackets for Trio Relay by Cheryl Frances-Hoad

Written in response to competition funding for the 2012 London Olympics, Five Rackets for Trio Relay is scored for the unusual arrangement of double piano trio; composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad makes full use of the multitudinous textural opportunities and contrasts afforded by the instrumentation.

There’s a bold opening to the suite, a strident beginning in Archery and Curling. Subsequently, skeletal piano figures are answered by string glissandi as the music begins to explore whole-tone scales.

The buzzing opening to the second movement contrasts with pointillist steps, and throughout the movement Frances-Hoad indulges in an enthusiastic exploration of different articulation techniques across the instruments – glissandi, tremolo, staccato, pizzicato.

By contrast, the third movement, Sailing, displays wonderful colours in rippled piano chords, with a lyrical violin melody over sonorous cello shapes. Clever handling of widely-spaced textures creates a rich yet clear ensemble sound, with an harmonic language that is accessible yet evocative. The tranquil nature is resotely dashed in the bold, rhythmic strokes of Boxing, in which Torke-esque block chords and homophonic textures abound. The spiky opening of the final movement, Marathon, Relay, Walk, Spring!, sees oscillating piano figures beneath repeating string shapes in an exciting musical language that is brash and vigorous.

Written for both professional and amateur musicians, the music is sympathetic to the needs of younger players without compromising on the tonal language or the inventive rhythmic nature of the piece. In spirit, the work feels like a twenty-first century answer to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s an entertaining, spirited and inventive piece, deftly played on this recording by the Lawson Trio and students from Pro Corda, in a disc including works by Turnage, David Knotts and Anthony Powers, on the Prima Facie label.

Here’s a live performance of Marathon, Relay, Walk, Sprint! performed at King’s Place.

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