Friday 29 August 2014

Anyone that has an interest in British music should not hesitate to acquire this new release from Nimbus featuring Philip Sawyers’ Symphony No.2 and Cello Concerto with the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by Kenneth Woods

Philip Sawyers (b. 1951) was born in London and studied violin with Colin Sauer, and composition with Helen Glatz at Dartington College of Arts in Devon. At the Guildhall School of Music in London, he studied violin with Joan Spencer and Max Rostal and received guidance in compositional from Buxton Orr, Patric Standford and Edmund Rubbra.

In 1973, Sawyers joined the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden, during which time he also freelanced with other orchestras and chamber groups including the London Symphony Orchestra, the English National Opera Orchestra and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as well as West End theatre orchestras and in film, pop, and light music sessions.  He was also violin coach for the Kent County Youth Orchestra and a visiting teacher at various educational establishments.

In 1997, he left the ROH, and undertook a year of postgraduate study at Goldsmith’s College, University of London. Alongside composing, Sawyers now works as a freelance violinist, teacher and adjudicator.

Philip Sawyers’ works have been performed and broadcast around the world and include two symphonies, concertos, chamber works, songs and instrumental works.

Nimbus Alliance  have already recorded Sawyers’ two violin sonatas (NI 6240) and his Symphonic Music for Strings and Brass, The Gale of Life and Symphony No.1 (NI 6129)

The latest release of Sawyers’ music from Nimbus features his Symphony No.2 coupled with his Cello concerto and Concertante for Violin, Piano and Strings with the Orchestra of the Swan  conducted by Kenneth Woods

NI 6281

Sawyers’ Cello Concerto (2010) was commissioned by the Sydenham International Music Festival, England and written for cellist Maja Bogdanovic , the soloist on this recording. The opening Allegro commences with the cello and orchestra in a mellifluous, flowing melody that immediately sticks in the mind. The music soon becomes increasingly passionate but, when the music drops away again there are some lovely varied textures for the cello. The music picks up more rapidly and somewhat anxiously before again falling to a quieter section, pointed up by short, rapid phrases for cello. Eventually a more impassioned orchestral passage arrives that sweeps ahead, leading to sharp staccato phrases when the cello joins for the cadenza. When the orchestra rejoins, it manages to quell the agitated cello to lead it into the gentle melody of the opening.

Higher strings open the Adagio, soon joined by horns, then oboe, as the lovely falling melody is revealed. The cello enters taking up the melody, briefly taken by a horn before continuing with a soft and gentle string accompaniment. The cello slowly works up a passionate edge to the music with the various instrumental sections adding individual textural touches. Soon the music suddenly becomes more dramatic with an orchestral passage brass. The cello joins in this dramatic section leading the way before quietening and becoming more reflective, the cello taking the melody against a melancholy orchestral accompaniment. Nevertheless, the cello leads the impassioned music back before dropping to a beautifully hushed coda.

The concerto concludes with a lively Allegro where the cello seems to have a dialogue with the orchestra before the orchestra take over. The cello returns as the music falls quieter but no less agitated. Soon a more flowing melody arrives for cello and orchestra but it is interrupted by little rhythmic motifs. The music rises up to become more lively with the orchestra forcing the pace ahead but the cello returns with moments of introspection. However, overall the mood is vibrant with broad sweeps of orchestral sound before, with the cello, it rushes ahead to the coda.

There is terrific playing from cellist, Maja Bogdanovic as well as the Orchestra of the San under Kenneth Woods.

Symphony No.2 (2008) was an earlier commission from the Sydenham International Music Festival and is in a single movement though falling into four sections. Timpani and brass dominate the opening, full of forward thrust and dynamism. The music soon drops to a hushed section where various woodwind and brass quietly intrude into the orchestral texture before slowly rising up though now less dramatic, despite occasional sudden brass interjections. Gentler passages alternate with more dramatic outbursts with this orchestra providing taut, dynamic playing.

Soon there is a section that is a riot of orchestral colour and instrumental sound with Sawyer adding so many fine orchestral touches such as little brass interjections that pop up and disappear. A quiet mysterious passage of swirling orchestral textures arrives, one of the finest moments in this work. A group of woodwind instruments appear before rich strings take over, pulling the music up as the woodwind combine with the strings. Later, as the woodwind appear again, the music falls back as a solo violin weaves around the orchestra. There are a number of dramatic rises and swirls from the orchestra, full of thrust and energy, set against quieter sections before a final dramatic rise of the orchestra, with timpani, pushing forward to the resolute coda.

This is a very fine symphony that rewards repeated listening such are the little details easily missed at first hearing.

Concertante for Violin, piano and Strings (2006) was commissioned by the Czech violinist, Tomas Tulacek, in order to add to the number of works for this unusual combination of instruments. Here the Orchestra of the Swan is joined by the Steinberg Duo, Louisa Stonehill (violin) and Nicholas Burns (piano) Deep piano chords along with an insistent orchestra motif open this work. The violin soon enters, before being joined by the piano in a lighter theme that contrasts with the more aggressive opening theme when it returns. A gentler section for violin and piano arrives that soon becomes more and more agitated, moving between quieter and agitated louder passages. Eventually the violin introduces a slow thoughtful passage taken up by piano over hushed strings. This wistful melody continues, shared between the violin and piano over a hushed orchestra before slowly rising up with some terrific rising and falling phrases for violin and piano. As the work progresses the music introduces the lighter theme from earlier in the work but soon the music is whipped up again as the two soloists and orchestra drive the music forward. Towards the end the music quietens a little but nothing can stop the music rushing to its coda.

This is a particularly unusual and very attractive work. The two fine soloists, Louisa Stonehill and Nicholas Burns provide spectacularly fine performances ably supported by the strings of the Orchestra of the Swan.

The Orchestra of the Swan under Kenneth Woods do a terrific job with all these works as do the soloists, cellist Maja Bogdanovic and the Steinberg Duo, Louisa Stonehill and Nicholas Burns. Extremely well recorded at the Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England and there are excellent booklet notes from Kenneth Woods.

Anyone that has an interest in British music should not hesitate to acquire this new release. After my enthusiastic review of Sawyer’s two violin sonatas (see: ) I intend to seek out the previous Nimbus recording of Sawyers’ orchestral works (NI 6129) 

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