Philip Sawyers Cello Concerto, Symphony No.2, Concertante for Violin, Piano & Strings
It’s a perfectly natural response when encountering a composer’s work for the first time to compare it to music we already know. We all do it, and this instinct to relate the new to the familiar can help us begin to understand new musical languages and idioms. However, if we really want to get to grips with new voices, to fully understand what we’re hearing and how it’s affecting us, I think it’s important to move past reacting to music in terms of what it is like, and to move on to engaging with what it is as quickly as we can.
CELLO CONCERTO The cello concerto was commissioned by the Sydenham International Music Festival in 2010 and written for cellist Maja Bogdanovic. The work is in 3 movements and is scored for a classical-size orchestra.
SYMPHONY NO.2 Commissioned by the Sydenham International Music Festival, it was premiered in June 2008 by the London Mozart Players conducted by Robert Trory. The only stipulation on the commission was that the orchestral forces were the same as in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the last piece on the programme.
CONCERTANTE FOR VIOLIN, PIANO & STRINGS This Concertante was commissioned by the Czech violinist Tomas Tulacek in 2006 as a welcome addition to the limited number of works, including examples by Haydn and Mendelssohn, for this somewhat unusual combination of instruments.
“All in all this is an excellent disc, powerful music presented in performances it is hard to imagine being easily surpassed. Clearly Sawyers' music inspires his performers. Both discs have been blessed by the highest calibre of music-making allied to a real sense of near evangelical passion. This is accessible in the best sense - knotty but not opaque, challenging but compelling. All of which proves that traditional forms such as the symphony or concerto still have much to offer and that for contemporary music to "appeal" it does not need to rely on extra-musical gimmicks, dumbing-down or multi-media presentation. When it is this good not a lot else matters.” Nick Barnard, musicweb-international.com
"Sawyers excitingly integrated music marries a generous lyrical impulse to a genuine thematic substance an marvelously invigorating contrapuntal flair...Boasting admirable sound and judicious balance, this rewarding collection earns the strongest recommendation - and I'm already looking forward to exploring the two existing Nimbus releases devoted to Sawyers." Gramophone, October 2014
"The playing of soloists and orchestra is first-rate and the recorded sound is clear and detailed." The Federation of Recorded Music Societies, Autumn 2014
“This is a particularly unusual and very attractive work. The two fine soloists, Louisa Stonehill and Nicholas Burns provide spectacularly fine performances ably supported by the strings of the Orchestra of the Swan. The Orchestra of the Swan under Kenneth Woods do a terrific job with all these works as do the soloists, cellist Maja Bogdanovic and the Steinberg Duo, Louisa Stonehill and Nicholas Burns. Extremely well recorded at the Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England and there are excellent booklet notes from Kenneth Woods. Anyone that has an interest in British music should not hesitate to acquire this new release. After my enthusiastic review of Sawyer’s two violin sonatas I intend to seek out the previous Nimbus recording of Sawyers’ orchestral works (NI 6129)” theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk
“The notes are excellent - and the print is not too small. They offer an exploration of these three pieces by the present Principal Guest Conductor of the Swan Orchestra, Kenneth Woods. These are interpolated with notes by the composer. Included are biographical details about the performers and the Orchestra of the Swan which is based in Stratford-upon-Avon. I consider that the performances of all three works are exemplary and display the orchestra’s skill and enthusiasm. The soloists are clearly impressive in their interpretation of this music.” John France, musicweb-international.com
“The performances are totally committed and the recording quality is really fine. This is the kind of music that gives one hope for the future of our art.” Robert Matthew-Walker
“There is much pleasure in observing with what freedom and resource Sawyers shows passing but fleeting respect for 12-note techniques in both the Symphony and Concertante. That is as it should be. To have piano and violin as soloists in a concerted work is unusual. Haydn and Mendelssohn had shown that it could be done successfully, and Sawyers has also managed a work of great accomplishment. The start could hardly be more compelling. This CD reflects great credit on all the performers, but most on a composer previously unknown to me.” Robert Anderson
"This is a disc that anyone new to the music of Philip Sawyers, as I was, will find highly rewarding and thoroughly infectious." Steve Arloff, musicweb-international.com
“Philip Sawyers is a name I’ve never come across before but I must say that I am delighted to have discovered his music. The three works included here have an instant melodic appeal without being in any way populist in their approach. Added to this melodic gift the composer also writes music that actually goes somewhere. There is a good “old fashioned” grasp of form and structure. His experience of playing at the highest level in symphony orchestras for many years has bestowed on him a true expertise on how to orchestrate. These comments could have been made about Malcolm Arnold but that’s where the similarity ends. I love Arnold’s music but Philip Sawyers inhabits a different sound world to Malcolm’s. I think we have something really special here… The playing of the Orchestra of the Swan is dedicated and polished. Individual orchestral soloists are outstanding, especially in the symphony. The recording is good rather than outstanding. Woodwinds are a little distant and in the concerto their important contributions are swamped by the soloist. Musically this is rather special. I hope that Nimbus is planning to record more of Philip Sawyers’ work. Hugely impressive… Tuneful modern music with instant appeal.” John Whitmore