JOHN PICKARD (b.1963): Symphony No. 5, Sixteen Sunrises, Concertante Variations for Wind Quintet, Timpani and Strings, Toccata (Monteverdi).
Catalogue Number: 07T008
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Pickard's 5th Symphony continues to consolidate his position as one of the most exciting contemporary symphonists and one of the most significant British composers of his generation. Regarding the symphony not as a form but, in Hans Keller's words ‘the large-scale integration of contrasts’, he produces works of great cogency and unity within diversity, employing an extended tonality that is nonetheless unmistakably functional tonality, and believes that, defined in this way the symphony is as relevant and living an entity now as it has ever been. His obvious model in the taut, organic development of this work is late Sibelius (there is a passage in deliberate tribute about 1/3 of the way through, if there were any doubt), but other Nordic symphonists, notably Nielsen and Sallinen, British composers - Britten, Brian, Simpson, Vaughan Williams - and sometimes Shostakovich, all hover in the background. One prominent feature of the symphony is the almost concertante rôle of three spaced sets of tympani; one thinks of Nielsen 4 and Simpson 8, but Pickard takes the concept further, and while they are used to thrilling dramatic effect it is the assignment of melodic material to an intricate dance between the three players that is most unusual and remarkable. Contrast and conflict are at the heart of symphonic writing - of this type at any rate - and the half-hour, single-span work is divided internally into fast and slow sections, metrically related even as they are opposed in character, mood and dramatic function. This is certainly one of the finest British symphonies of recent years. Contrast is also at the heart of Sixteen Sunrises (the number observed in a 24-hour period from the International Space Station), thus qualifying this shorter work as 'symphonic' in a sense. Various of Pickard's favourite composers have given us one sunrise each; Pickard seizes the opportunity offered by orbital space travel to offer, if not 16 then a succession of dramatic transitions from darkness into light, each more magnificent and blazingly tumultuous than the last, with a good measure of Wagnerian and Straussian grandeur and luminosity along the way. Concertante Variations was "intended as a light-hearted divertimento that poses no profound questions and is designed purely for enjoyment" and it succeeds admirably in this aim. Five variations, alternating fast and slow, ending with a lively fugato, suggest a combination of pastoral Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich in an unaccustomedly sunny mood, with a bit of The Young Person's Guide ... thrown in for good measure. BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Martyn Brabbins.