PHILIP SAWYERS (b.1951): Symphony No. 3, Songs of Loss and Regret for Soprano and Orchestra, Fanfare.
Catalogue Number: 10T007
Reference: NI 6353
Description: We offered Sawyers' first two symphonies in 2011 (02M012) and 2015 (03Q011) and hailed him a symphonist of significance, producing big-boned neo-romantic works based on expertly proportioned structures, both conventionally symphonic and serial. The Third develops and expands the characteristics of the style that the composer developed in the previous two. Sawyers' mastery of thematic development, using modal, tonal, contrapuntal and serial techniques is considerably developed here, and the tautness and drama of the symphonic argument correspondingly increased. The turbulent, combative first movement uses a dodecaphonic theme with strong modal implications, thoroughly symphonically worked out. The second begins with a very Mahlerian gesture (there are a number of instances of phrases teetering on the edge of a direct quotation, especially from the 9th, then branching off in a different direction); Mahler is an acknowledged influence, as are Bartók and Brahms. This adagio, full of longing and unease, scales the mountain-ranges of successive monumental climaxes, Bruckner-like, before a grinding cataclysm leads to collapse. The 'scherzo' is a surprisingly quirky, elegant and humorous little intermezzo, with a cheekily subverted waltz rhythm and an irresistible similarity to Walton's 'popular song' from Façade. The symphony resumes its darkness-to-light trajectory with the eruption of the finale. This alternates a driving 12-note theme with a solemn chorale in a thorough symphonic argument, before the emergence of a technically advanced fugue which cycles through six tonal centres. Paradoxically, as the music of the finale becomes more technically intricate, the emotionally direct 'film score romanticism' that we remarked in the earlier symphonies becomes more evident. Finally a hard-won tonal resolution is achieved at the very end. The song cycle was written around the centenary of the start of WWI, and sets texts that epitomise 'the pity of war, the pity war distilled' by Housman, Owen, Tennyson, two verses of Gray's "Elegy", and a particularly bleak epitaph from the Apocrypha. The idiom is more conventionally tonal than the symphony, with modal inflections that lend the music an English feeling of restrained mourning. Texts included. April Fredrick (soprano), English Symphony Orchestra; Kenneth Woods.