Adrian Williams: Symphony No. 1 & Chamber Concerto: Portraits of Ned Kelly



In stock
Catalogue Number

- available to download and stream from all Digital Platforms

My first symphony began its life during the spring of 2018 following a request from Kenneth Woods for a work for the English Symphony Orchestra’s 21st Century Symphony Project. The basic score was completed towards the end of the following year but continued to undergo quite a few changes almost until its recording in December 2021. The symphony, which is dedicated to Kenneth Woods ‘for giving me hope’ is one of my largest-scale pieces. am hugely grateful to Ken Woods and the ESO for their tremendous dedication, and to the generosity of the Steven R Gerber Trust in the USA for their sponsorship of this performance. © Adrian Williams

This remarkable work is one of two by Williams to grow from his friendship with the great Australian painter, Sidney Nolan. Nolan and Williams were neighbours in the Welsh Borders region that Williams has called home for most of the last forty years. Williams, a prolific pianist, was given the invitation to use the piano at The Rodd, Nolan’s house in northwest Herefordshire and now the home of the Sidney Nolan Trust. The Chamber Concerto is a musical response to Nolan’s most famous series of paintings, which depict scenes from the wild life of Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, an outlaw, gang leader and convicted police-murderer who rampaged across Australia in the years prior to his arrest and execution in 1880. Williams’ music almost always has a virtuosic edge to it, but the demands placed on the musicians in this work are truly extraordinary, yet it is incredibly rewarding to play. In this sense, Williams’ designation of the work as a concerto is both telling and apt is it demands that everyone in the ensemble contributes their utmost in rhythmic precision, agility, accuracy in extremes of register and lyrical storytelling. © Kenneth Woods


"Performances and recording are as fine as we have come to expect from Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra. Both pieces find the players in excellent form, and the 11 players of the Chamber Concerto deserve particular praise for the lyrical virtuosity they bring to this highly demanding music. The recordings were made at the Nimbus’s own Wyastone Concert Hall, conveniently located for both the orchestra and the composer." Gavin Dixon, Fanfare

"Symphony Project’ goes from strength to strength: Philip Sawyers’s Third (10/17; my Critic’s Choice that year), David Matthews’s Ninth (7/19) and Matthew Taylor’s Fifth (5/21); Steve Elcock’s Eighth, next in the series, is in the can but will not be released until late 2023. This newly released fourth album features a symphony every bit as impressive as its series forebears." Guy Rickards, Gramphone

“The latest volume in American conductor Kenneth Woods’ 21st Century Symphonies project with British label Nimbus Alliance, and the marvellous English Symphony Orchestra. There is an Australian connection to both works by Adrian Williams (b1956), the searing slow movement of whose First Symphony (2018-21) was inspired in part by the reported devastation caused by wildfires there during the composition. The coupling is a bright and edgy chamber concerto based on Sidney Nolan’s portraits of Australia’s infamous bushwhacker, Ned Kelly. Superb music, scintillatingly performed and recorded.” Guy Rickards, The Christian Review ‘Best Classical Recordings of 2022’ [read complete review]

“While the symphony and chamber concerto are clearly different works, both are gripping and receive sterling realizations from Woods and the ESO—no easy feat when Williams' writing poses extraordinary challenges to the musician. That's all the more reason, then, to imagine how delighted the composer must be with the project's outcome.” Textura [read complete review]

“Adrian Williams dedicated his symphony to Kenneth Woods “for giving me hope”. With five premieres and four recordings to its name already this project gives me hope that it will banish the baffling (to me anyway) idea that no one wants to write, play or hear new symphonies today.” Recording of the Week - Adam Philp, aka The Symphonist [read complete review]

“This latest release in the English Symphony Orchestra’s 21st Symphony Project features its most ambitious instalment yet in the First Symphony by Adrian Williams (b1956), coupled with a no less eventful piece by this ‘dark horse’ among British composers of his generation.” Richard Whitehouse, [read complete review]

“The English Symphony Orchestra’s 21st Century Symphony Project is being pursued by the discreetly ever-productive Nimbus and principally through Kenneth Woods… Adrian Williams now joins the Project in emphatic and substantial style.” Rob Barnett, [read complete review]

"Composer Adrian Williams was born in 1956 and showed a precocious talent for the piano as a child. Throughout his career, his vital compass has been to seek new creative horizons. His music is multifaceted and even eclectic; he has composed music for film and television, and has drawn from the sources of English song, jazz and minimalism. His first symphony, in four movements, was written for the 21st Century Symphony Project of the English Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Woods, during the spring of 2018. The composer confesses in the disc notes that "Symphony no. 1 is dedicated to Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra for their generous dedication; it is one of my largest-scale pieces". The Symphony no. 1 is a colorful and explosive work of four movements, each of which has a rather heterogeneous language: at times they show a lyricism and a raw sensuality and at others a rather emotive radiance. It is worth saying that the demands of the score of this work are truly extraordinary, but very rewarding. Woods, a conductor of great rigour, shows with his orchestra an explicit commitment to internalize Williams' work. As for the second work on this disc, the Chamber Concerto: Portraits of Ned Kelly ('Chamber Concert: portraits of Ned Kelly'), it is exceptionally virtuoso, inspired by the paintings of his Australian friend Sidney Nolan, which depict scenes from the wild life of Australian bandit Ned Kelly (1854-1880). The unsettling nature of the music draws attention - the percussive use of the piano is worth noting - through the tension of the phrasing, a bellicose air and an intense lyricism. A remarkable contribution to the recording landscape of the current composition in England." [translation] [read review]

Adrian Williams: Chamber Concerto Review - Geoff Pearce, Classical Music Daily

Adrian Williams: Symphony No. 1 Review - Geoff Pearce, Classical Music Daily

“…These first recordings are… exciting and new in their language, thus stimulating and worth being heard… Written between 2018 and 2021, the strings are given the task of opening the work full of energy. As the first movement progresses, quieter sections can then be heard, but they are punctuated with restlessness that only takes over at the end… The slow movement is a lament. With it, Williams reacts emotionally to the devastating bushfires in Australia. Fear and shock form one side, moments of great thoughtfulness and silence the other. The last movement….opens deeply rumbling by basses, contrabassoon and low brass until the full orchestra joins in energetically…Through elements of tension and relief, the music then rises, as it were in keeping with the style, to a dramatic ending…The orchestra, under the baton of its leader Kenneth Woods, is at its best in the many rather brief solos and besides that in the ensemble as a whole. Despite the many demands on all participants, no weaknesses show. The ensemble is balanced and disciplined and shows the necessary intensity. The direction by Kenneth Woods results in a clearly structured performance that presents the music with verve. The recording is clear and balanced and very present, but not obtrusive."

“…the four symphonies that have appeared on disc since this scheme got underway in 2016 are all attractive, musically substantial works that deserve a place in the repertoire and a long life. They are: Symphony No. 3 by Philip Sawyers; Symphony No. 9 by David Matthews; Symphony No. 5 by Matthew Taylor, and Symphony No. 1 by Adrian Williams…Though not the youngest, Adrian Williams (b. 1956) is the most impressive in a way, because this remarkable 50-minute symphony is his first. Williams began as a piano prodigy but soon gravitated to composition, studying with Lennox Berkeley and Bernard Stevens…..His First Symphony, written in 2020, is in four movements. The vigorous first movement contains moments of stasis where an almost spectral concentration on colour emerges, but at the same time Williams develops two initial themes in a symphonic manner……. In his note, the composer reveals that he was inspired by images of the devastation wrought by terrible, wide-ranging bushfires in eastern Australia in 2019, and this music undoubtedly conjures up a sad, ravaged landscape. … Williams’s piece captures the rumbunctious, anti-authoritarian outlaw in a manner akin to Till Eulenspiegel, only more aggressive and unconstrained….the piece lacks the lyrical profile of much of the First Symphony, it is great fun. Both works are expertly orchestrated and are played here with brilliance and a commitment that underlines the significance of Woods’s 21st Century Symphony Project. Recording quality is first-rate, so if you are interested in contemporary orchestral music that is not too weird and has a tangible symphonic backbone, you cannot go wrong with this disc. - Philip Scott

© 2010-2023 Wyastone. All Rights Reserved.