Sophie Hutchings: Night Sky

In writing about Sophie Hutchings' second album Night Sky, I could test your patience with a self-indulgent review of interminable length or simply cut to the chase and tell you how beautiful the album is—and I think I'll do the latter. Yes, one is reminded of kindred spirits to the Sydney-based Hutchings— neo-classical figures such as Peter Broderick, Dustin O' Halloran, Nils Frahm, and Max Richter, among others—as one listens to the album's eight settings, but one also comes away fully cognizant of her individual talents as opposed to those that might seem to be shared by others or even derivative. Hutchings, you see, is not only a talented pianist but more critically a first-rate composer whose gift for melody, pacing, and mood come fully to the fore in this latest gathering; she's also someone unafraid to wear her heart on her sleeve and consequently her oft-melancholy and typically fragile material is unabashedly open-hearted in the most affecting way possible.

Bolstering the music's classical-conservatory feel, Hutchings embellishes her stately style with lilting trills, arpeggios, and clusters. Piano is the core instrument, naturally, but she carefully augments it with painterly dashes of percussion, harmonium, strings, and woodwinds (murmuring vocals and a saw's swoop prove to be especially inspired enhancements to “By Night”). Her handling of space, atmosphere, and suggestion during the nuanced opener “Half Hidden” bespeaks a too-rare tendency that other composers would do well to emulate. The album isn't a single mood either as there are playful moments, too, as the glissando episodes in “Between Earth and Sky” show, and though it might be merely coincidence, there also appears to be a subtle nod to Julee Cruise's “Falling” in the descending motif that surfaces near the end of “Saber's Beads.” And while the classical feel of the music is always close at hand, a pastoral quality also fittingly emerges during the panoramic “Between Earth and Sky.”

The ruminative etudes “In Light” and “Saber's Beads” and the absolutely gorgeous closer “Last Quarter” are certainly some of the prettiest pieces of music you'll hear in this or any year. Music of such deep feeling requires little else to argue in its defense.

November 2012