DAVID HACKBRIDGE JOHNSON (b.1963): Symphony No. 15 “Where the Wind is Born”. Op. 361/3, Aspens, Op. 362, Ziggurats, Op. 251, Valse Mérovingienne, Op. 77a, 2 Elegies for Strings and Harp, Op. 159.
Catalogue Number: 04U009
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0456
Description: Following the first two volumes, with Hackbridge Johnson's immensely impressive 9th (04S008), and 10th and 13th (08U009) symphonies, here is the rather different but no less striking 15th of 2017. Whereas Nos. 9 and 10 saw the composer working through personal trauma in music of terrifying despair and wrenching emotional storms, the 15th (and for that matter the powerful symphonic poem Aspens which immediately followed it) derive their drama from external, natural forces, and are less constrained by the combative, confrontational and oppositional forms of the earlier works, and are more organic in structure. The symphony was written after the composer's first visit to Liepāja, Latvia, and the work's three movements represent 'transcriptions of sensations' of the mystical light and landscape of the Baltic coast. Make no mistake, though; this is no sunny picture-postcard or tourist's photograph album - the music is imbued with the same rugged energy and surging power that made the previous works so unforgettable. The first movement sets out the symphony's basic motif over the persistent throbbing of waves and ripples. The 'Storm' of the second movement is thrilling and thunderous. The finale begins with scudding clouds and trills, but soon develops contrapuntal density and texture and leads into a massive climax on a theme derived, like much of the symphony's material, from an elaboration of the opening motif. This subsides into a return of the pulsing rhythm from the first movement, and the work ends with an unexpected, ghostly reminiscence of a Latvian folksong. Aspens follows many of the same procedures in a powerful nature-poem that draws inspiration from Edward Thomas' eponymous poem translated through a dream in which the composer saw a vast, unsettlingly abandoned landscape. Ziggurats is likewise imposing and disturbing, drawing on Shelley and W. G. Sebald for a vision of decay, ruin and forgotten grandeur. The Elegies reflect the composer's interest in early English music, Purcell and Dowland in particular. Both are variations, the first, elaborations over a doleful ground; the second, richly chromatic 'verses' constructed from a mournful melody. The Valse is all that remains of a discarded ballet on the much-mythologised Merovingian dynasty, and takes its place alongside similar irresistibly catchy but somehow 'off' waltzes by Shostakovich, Schnittke et al. Liepāja Symphony Orchestra; Paul Mann.