From the pen of Philip Sawyers (a Londoner born in 1951), these are quite the best two pieces this composer has yet given us, in my opinion, and of those I have heard.
Symphony No.4 (2018) opens in arresting style, a bold summons that bids our involvement in some very strong symphonic argument and varied emotions. It might be thought a Very British piece (with, to my mind, shades of Alan Rawsthorne) but its pent-up passions, and a light and shade that prevents sameness, means that it travels well in terms of its design and length (thirty-six minutes) and also with regard to future performances. Placed second is a buoyant Scherzo, as shadowy as it is fleet, that works well to counteract the cut-short (my impression) opening Moderato. Placed last is an expansive Adagio, with motivic connections to what has gone before, of haunting intimate expressivity countered by waves of intense fortissimo, and the soaring conclusion wraps the whole convincingly. I was hoping for a loud ending!
The half-hour Hommage to Kandinsky (2014), written for the Grand Rapids Symphony, is equally impressive. Originating from a Kandinsky exhibition at Tate Modern that Sawyers attended, his Hommage to the Russian painter plays continuously and enjoys twelve distinct tempo markings and judicious diversions – from misty opening to a troubled ending; listener-interest never flags. Like the Symphony, Hommage to Kandinsky is scored with consummate skill (and is for larger forces) to which the BBC National Orchestra of Wales responds with relish and sensitivity, led by Kenneth Woods with typical flair and compassion. He and the composer have collaborated on an informative booklet note. Nimbus Alliance NI 6405, to be released on June 5.
Now, if you click on page four (that’s where it is at the moment) of this site, there you will find my thoughts on Woods championing Symphonies by Christopher Gunning, every bit as recommendable. Or search Gunning.