JOHN ROBERTSON (b.1943): Symphonies No. 4, Op. 73 and No. 5, Op. 76, Meditation: In Flanders Fields for Narrator and Orchestra, Op. 70.
Catalogue Number: 01W051
Label: Navona Records
Description: Like our previous offerings of this composer’s music (05U066, 07U063, 08T058), these works are big, colorful, entirely tonal essays in appealingly full-blooded neo-romanticism. The first movement of the 4th Symphony begins with woodwinds in an insouciant, easygoing, Nielsenesque, outdoor mood, which is extensively developed throughout the orchestra before the strings introduce a lyrical second subject. Drama builds to an impressive climax, followed by the movement's breezy recapitulation and coda. The theme of the gently wistful slow movement is a relative of the (unfortunately notorious) "Two lovely black eyes / three blind mice" one from the Rachmaninov 4th Concerto. Trombones attempt to cast a fleeting dark cloud, but tranquillity is soon restored. The genial, bouncy finale begins with a kind of hornpipe, generates a boisterous but always good-natured climax, and ends with the return of the jaunty opening material, suddenly ending in a pseudo-Brucknerian coda. The Fifth is a large scale (more than half hour) single span divided into three distinct movements. The overall tone of the work is more serious and dramatic than the 4th, and the result is Robertson's most impressive symphonic accomplishment to date. The first section is tense and agitated from the start, already pointing to the brewing turbulence that soon breaks out. The opening material is developed through a brief climax, then a mournful saxophone presents a second subject. These themes are extensively developed in a mood of ominous foreboding, Robertson here at times, especially in the movement's climax and desolate winding-down, sounding much closer to Shostakovich than is typical of his style. This transitions into the slow movement's long-breathed, lyrical melody, sombre and somewhat Mahlerian, with a feeling of contemplation in the midst of nature's vastness, a "view from the mountain-top" as it were, reinforced when the horns introduce a chorale-like second theme. The music waxes Brucknerian and achieves a resounding climax before retreating into the distant vistas of the landscape. The finale lightens the mood with a perky theme that develops along bucolic, then boisterous lines, leading to a jubilant conclusion. The sombre Meditation is modestly scored for stings and trumpet in a mood of quiet contemplation, accompanying the narration of the famous poem by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in the First World War. Bratislava Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Armoré.