CHRISTOPHER GUNNING (b.1944): Cello Concerto, Violin Concerto, Birdflight.
Catalogue Number: 07W008
Description: Gunning is a very considerable symphonist in the British tonal tradition (06K099, 09P008, 11Q007, 01V001), and the half-hour, three movement Cello Concerto is exactly what one would expect of a composer adept at presenting emotionally resonant, powerfully dramatic musical narratives in a rich, neo-Romantic idiom. This work joins the honorable (and increasing; last month gave us Anna Clyne's superb piece - 06V066) ranks of post-Elgarian cello concertos of eloquence, pathos and substance. Gunning's concerto explores dark, autumnal feelings in the first movement, inspired by residents of a nursing home in their twilight years, roused from slumber to memory and action by the allure of a waltz. The turbulent central section, with the cello's agitated embellishments of the grand ballroom waltz, obviously occurring in some dream world far beyond the confines of the rest home, suggests that there is something traumatic in being transported to a partly imaginary experience that no longer exists. The middle movement is an incisive scherzo, with more than a little of Shostakovich about it. The finale begins as a dark-hued lament, a return to the shadow-haunted world of the first movement, and even the more active variations that follow remain uneasy and agitated. The lament returns after an impassioned cadenza to end the work. The attractive Violin Concerto is much lighter fare, though substantial in scale. Its bright luminous colors and open-air pictorial qualities remind us that Gunning has had a long, distinguished career as a composer for film and TV. Inspired by the scenery of Wales, the first movement is a bracing walk through the hills, birds wheeling overhead in florid solo lines for the soloist, with pauses for rest and reflection before setting off again. The slow movement is gentle and nocturnal, and the last is robust and energetic, with rapid perpetuum mobile figuration from the violin. Birdflight is a thoroughly delightful, unabashedly programmatic, neo-Romantic tone poem. The composer tells us what it’s about, and then provides music so vivid and descriptive that you can fill in the details for yourself and pretty much come up with a screenplay for a Disneyish animated short film. Day breaks and the birds welcome the dawn. As the day reaches its full magnificence they ascend into the sky, wheeling, swooping and singing. A hawk appears, but the flock, unaware, continues its cavorting murmuration. A chase ensues and the birds scatter with the predator in hot pursuit. Our heroes hide, and the marauder departs, defeated. A comic episode in which nervous birds peer out cautiously, and then the return to the skies to resume their graceful airborne gyrations. The work ends with the sleepy birds returning to their nests, and the mysterious night falls. This piece would be a knockout at the Proms. Richard Harwood (cello), Harriet Mackenzie (violin), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Christopher Gunning. Original 2016 Discovery Sound & Vision release (not previously offered by us).