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Philip Sawyers: Concertos

NI6374
£14.99

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About the music - a conductor's perspective: “Music is a language.” It is an expression I’ve heard Philip Sawyers use countless times. Philosophers and musicians have argued for centuries about whether music is a universal language or a personal one. It seems that it can obviously be either or both, and that there is a huge continuum of language between those musical gestures that are truly universal and those which are almost as personal as a fingerprint. One of the things I find most compelling about Philip’s music is the extent to which it embodies the extremes of both the universal and the personal. As Philip’s output grows and our understanding of his work evolves, we can begin to see that there are musical threads which spill over from one work to the next. In this respect, he is part of a venerable tradition. Sometimes these recurring themes and motifs have profound personal significance, sometimes they are simply, as Philip once said to me of a particular rhythmic motif which appears in the vast majority of his pieces at least once, “very useful.”Kenneth Woods

Philip Sawyers: Concertos

Reviews

At the start of the violin concerto it seems as if we’re in for Waltonian melancholy but very soon the music becomes vigorous. As I listened, what struck me particularly was the attractiveness of the melodic writing for the solo instrument. Furthermore, the orchestral parts are just as interesting. Even when the soloist is given athletic material to play the solo line continues to sing. There are a couple of forceful passages but for the most part the tone of the music is light and airy. The extensive cadenza is often dramatically rhetorical but it ends pensively. Thus is ushered in, seamlessly, a very tranquil ending to the movement during the course of which some of the material from the opening is reviewed.

For much of the time the character of the music is tranquil and it’s almost always lyrical. The writing for both the soloist and the orchestra displays notably fine melodic invention and the quiet end to the movement is simply magical. The finale is engaging and full of joie de vivre. It’s a light-hearted, spirited movement but even so Sawyers does not neglect to make the solo violin sing. This is a really impressive and highly attractive concerto. The solo instrument is treated very well indeed – and the impressive Alexander Sitkovetsky makes the most of the opportunity - while the orchestral contribution is full of melody and colour. Indeed, I very deliberately haven’t used the word “accompaniment” because the orchestra is utterly complementary to the solo instrument and a key contributor to the work.

When invited to write a trumpet concerto, Sawyers took his inspiration – at least as regards scoring – from a work he much admires: Poulenc’s G minor Organ Concerto, which uses an orchestra of strings and timpani. Actually, I’m not entirely sure if the shorthand term “trumpet concerto” is appropriate since the timpanist has a very important role and, writing of the finale, the composer refers to “lots of interplay between soloists and strings”. That said, the trumpeter is by far the dominant presence in the work. It’s a pity, though, that the timpanist is not named: he or she should have been. The first movement is “tense and dramatic”. The writing makes abundant use of the assertive brilliance of the trumpet, even in the less active episodes, and Simon Desbruslais certainly plays with a brilliant tone. Inevitably, the trumpet part contains fanfare-like material at times but Sawyers writes for it with great variety and flair. There’s a demanding cadenza in which the timpanist joins towards the end. This work may be a concerto but this eloquent central movement does far more than show off the solo instruments. The finale is exuberant and energetic. It receives a very vital performance. Simon Desbruslais plays with tireless virtuosity and despite the music’s often strenuous demands he never compromises his gleaming tone.

This is an impressive disc. All the music is well worth hearing. The music is imaginatively crafted, constantly showing fine melodic invention and a firm sense of purpose and direction. Clearly Sawyers knows how to get the best out of an orchestra. I’m enjoying my discovery of Philip Sawyers’ music and I’m now resolved to catch up with his first two symphonies. I’m sure that the composer is highly satisfied with the advocacy his pieces receive here. Alexander Sitkovetsky and Simon Desbruslais are terrific soloists while the orchestral playing throughout demonstrates assurance and commitment. Kenneth Woods is clearly a very fine and effective champion for Sawyers’ music.

The recorded sound is good and the booklet contains valuable notes by Kenneth Woods and Philip Sawyers.MusicWeb-International