DAVID HACKBRIDGE JOHNSON (b.1963): Orchestral Music, Vol. 2 - Symphony No. 10, Op. 312/1, Symphony No. 13, Op. 361/1, Motet No. 6 “Benedicite maria et flumina”, Op. 337/4.
Catalogue Number: 08U009
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0452
Description: Well, we asked for it, and thankfully, we got it. After his stunning debut disc last year, centered on his epic and hugely impressive Ninth Symphony (04S008), Toccata now brings us his next two completed symphonies (11 and 12 are yet to be cast in their final form). When he wrote the 9th, the composer was processing his grief at the death of his first wife, and describes the dark-hued work as having the character of 'Notes towards a Memorial'. The 10th is not that memorial. It's furious, even diabolical nature suggests the attempted catharsis of unbearable tragedy by one staring into the abyss and contemplating flinging himself headlong therein. The first movement is jagged, angular and angry. From the keening first theme punctuated by stabbing, accented chords, onward it is clear that the next half-hour will not be a comfortable one. The following funeral march and spectral scherzo have echoes of the crushing world-weariness and flickering menace of Busoni's Sarabande and Cortège. The real catastrophe is reserved for the finale, though; after a lamenting introduction that goes nowhere, the music becomes progressively more ominous and massive, finally breaking out into a screaming climax over pounding drums and harsh, clangorous percussion. The work descends into the depths in falling phrases reminiscent of the end of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. The 13th Symphony, by contrast, shares little of the tragic mood of the 10th, though the work is almost as intense in its unrestrained nervous energy and sometimes aggressive raucousness. The first movement is in a kind of sonata form, energetic and rudely vigorous. Never crude, though; the megaliths that Hackbridge Johnson sets to dancing are hewn to precise proportions. The slow movement begins with a noble theme, which soon gives rise to a powerful climax, after which the music regains its composure and embarks on a long paragraph of gorgeous, lush romanticism which, however, is not without its discordant undercurrents. The Allegro alla burlesca finale is a rhythmically unstable danse macabre, a kind of amalgam of Berlioz' Witches' Sabbath, Holst's Uranus the Magician and Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice, but wholly original-sounding. The orchestral Motet begins in gentle pastoral calm and achieves a radiant serenity by the end. Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Paul Mann.