CHRISTOPHER WRIGHT (b.1954): Symphony, Horn Concerto, NICHOLAS BARTON (b.1950): Accord: Symphony in One Movement.
Catalogue Number: 05X008
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0466
Description: The main work here is Wright's ambitious 45-minute Symphony of 2015. The composer explains his approach to the symphony with a quotation attributed to Mahler: "‘To write a symphony is [...] to construct a world". The symphony’s unusual form attempts to achieve this aim; the entire piece is a huge sonata structure, with the first movement as exposition, and the remaining three developing the material presented in the first. The large first movement presents the themes of the work in various permutations in which they will be used later. It opens with an ominous slow introduction that recalls Shostakovich, but soon takes off in different directions, beginning by opening into a Romantic landscape that might have been conceived by Moeran or Bax, although before long the pace picks up in a series of diverse episodes. This dizzying collage of moods recalls the later Havergal Brian, in its juxtaposition of thunderously brassy warlike climaxes with episodes of stasis and calm, or of disarming pastoral simplicity, or of expectant mystery. Eventually the music determines its course, after a towering central climax and its still aftermath, and embarks on a jaunty, but increasingly martial and aggressive march which leads to the movement's final climax. The tension and energy finally dissipate, and the movement ends with the shadowy expectancy of the opening, heralding the development, which begins with the scherzo. Diabolical scampering opens this playfully sinister movement, a propulsive nocturnal nightmare hunt, with a slow, gentler nocturne at its centre, soon overtaken by the material from the first section, transformed and rearranged. The slow movement combines Brucknerian scale, grandeur, and wonderment, a darker Sibelian landscape, and a sense of looming foreboding reminiscent of Shostakovich, in equal proportion. All of these are present in the opening bars, beginning in the radiant heights; a sudden shadow is cast and clears just as quickly. The movement falls into two sections; after the first subsides in a rich crepuscular glow a restatement of the opening gesture introduces a grand, solemn, cumulative climax which culminates in a Brucknerian mountain-range, after which the music fades out with a reminiscence of Holst's "Saturn". The finale, described by the composer as the "Coda" to the work's overarching structure, enters explosively with fanfares and drums. Continuing both the development of the symphony’s material and the teasing references to "The Planets", the movement is full of irrepressible energy and momentum, punctuated by episodes of stasis and repose. After the final propulsive section, the symphony’s ambiguous ending simply fades away with the sound of rapidly receding unison strings. The Horn Concerto was written in 2011, immediately following the composer’s Violin Concerto (05N073) in memory of his wife, who had died the previous year. The work is intentionally very different from the beautiful, heartbroken Violin Concerto, though perhaps not as much as the composer had planned, as the slow movement has a profound sense of longing in the midst of its lyrical tranquility. There is also a fleeting but unmistakable reference to Mahler's "Tragic" 6th Symphony. The first movement is breezy, lively, and energetic, the horn (of which considerable acrobatic virtuosity is required) in constant bantering dialogue with the orchestra. The jazzy finale does sound like a deliberate attempt to break through the "silence" into which the violin concerto withdrew, with its strutting string bass line and exuberant whoops from the horn. A central section resembles an optimistic hymn tune. Barton's Symphony is in a single span, lasting about 1/3 as long as Wright's, though it is so packed with incident that it belies its duration. It too has an overall sonata structure, and also falls into two contrasting sections, the transition occurring midway through the development. It begins with the tense, anticipatory first subject material, consisting of a number of distinct motifs; after a brief climax this is followed by the delicate second subject. The remainder of part one develops this material in the customary manner, traversing a variety of moods and textures with considerable dynamic drama. After a sustained and powerful climax, part two begins in elegiac, wistful mood. Although still developing the interplay of the subjects, the music is very different in character; the composer’s mother died during the composition of the piece, and this second section has a more tragic, in memoriam, air than the first. After a shattering climax, the coda is a gentle elegy, very clearly (and consciously) influenced by Mahler. A final valedictory climax, and the symphony dies away peacefully. Richard Watkins (horn), Royal Scottish National Orchestra; John Andrews; Evan-Alexis Christ.