The title track, "Well, Well, Cornelius," that opens this collection is one of the most sublime, haunting short pieces for piano since Erik Satie's Nocturne No. 5, with which it shares some degree of kinship. Dedicated to Skempton's late friend Cornelius Cardew, it holds faint echoes of the work songs that the latter came to embrace and compose, as well as an extraordinarily poignant sense of melancholy. If it's the standout composition here, many of the remaining works are almost as gorgeous, as deceptively simple and as lastingly beautiful. Skempton combines his basic, deep lyricism, drawing on diverse folk sources, with lessons learned from Cardew, Morton Feldman, and John Cage, while an active member of England's '60s avant-garde. The pianist here, John Tilbury, was also active in that scene, and became both a central member of the great improvising ensemble AMM, as well as one of the world's leading interpreters of Feldman. His astonishing touch and subtle pacing are invaluable elements leading to the success of this album. The spirit of Satie hovers over the proceedings to a greater degree than on Skempton's accordion pieces or works for chamber instruments. Songs like "June '77" or "Sweet Chariot" could easily be imagined as having been plucked from some undiscovered book of Satie's, even as they are tinged with more modern appreciations. Skempton has the similar ability to write melodies so ingratiating and so memorable that it requires one to listen a bit more carefully to hear the quiet complexities bubbling underneath. Well, Well, Cornelius is a spectacular achievement, one of the finest post-Feldman albums of contemporary piano music. Very highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick