I have found myself drawn more and more, as both player and listener, to the kind of post-Classical ambient piano music which Simon Templeton writes, and never more so this year when I have felt a certain estrangement from the kind of classical music I usually enjoy hearing in concert.
Ambient is a misnomer, for it suggests background music to be played while engaged in some other activity. ‘Alleviate’, Simon Templeton’s latest release, a collection of stand-alone piano miniatures, not thematically linked in any way, and mostly written during lockdown, merits attentive listening. The pieces have atmospheric, poetic titles such as Bending Light, By Moonlight or Halcyon, and the entire album is intended to “alleviate” negative or stressful feelings – from which most of us have suffered in a year dominated by the pandemic and its attendant anxieties.
The music is immediately appealing – melodic and consonant with occasional unexpected harmonic shifts and colourful timbres redolent of Debussy, Ravel and Satie, as well as contemporary composers such as Philip Glass and Peteris Vasks. Many of the pieces are simply structured, using repetitive melodic fragments or loops, which provide the foundations over which other parts of the music are free to wander, almost improvisatory in tone.
Haven, the opening track, begins with a simple rising motif in the treble alone, its wistfulness emphasised by gentle rubato and supporting bass notes, before another repeating motif is introduced higher in the treble. Influx is more frenetic, its rapid repeated motifs embroidered with another melodic fragment in the treble. Bending Light is rather contemplative, with piquant harmonic shifts redolent of Philip Glass. Halfway through a new motif is introduced, delicate and transparent. Wise or Otherwise, The Fish and The Goose Soiree, a rather enigmatic, melancholic waltz, and Floating immediately reminded me of Satie’s aphoristic miniatures. Spirit spools and tinkles like a music box melody. By Moonlight and By Sunrise are both gently infused with jazz harmonies and repeated melodic fragments which are at once poignant and tender. Alleviate, the album’s title track, shimmers in the upper treble. Ebb/Flow has a stop-start hesitancy and the introspective atmosphere of a Chopin Nocturne. Halcyon‘s melody is centred around the tenor voice of the piano, accompaniment by a plangent, undulating bass line, almost Schumannesque in its romanticism.
Performed by the composer himself, the piano sound is clean, resonant and immediate, with a lovely glassy treble and a rich bass, best appreciated in the later tracks on the album. Each piece has an improvisatory flavour, underpinned by supple tempi and tasteful, uncontrived rubato.
Don’t put this on as background music. Take the time to listen to and appreciate it – you won’t be disappointed.
‘Alleviate’ by Simon Templeton is available via Bandcamp