SAWYERS Cello Concerto. Symphony No 2
Here are three recent works of strong personality, genuine substance and warm-hearted integrity by a composer entirely new to me. Born in London in 1951, Philip Sawyers studied violin with Max Rostal and composition with Helen Glatz (with further support from Buxton Orr, Patric Standford and Edmund Rubbra). Between 1973 and 1997 he was a member of the Royal Opera House Orchestra, which would help explain his uncommon skill in handling instrumental forces.
Both the Cello Concerto (2010) and Second Symphony (2008) were commissioned by the Sydenham International Music Festival and are performed here with thrilling conviction and formidable assurance by soloist Maja Bogdanovic (a player of whom we will surely be hearing a lot more) and the Orchestra of the Swan under its excellent Chief Conductor Kenneth Woods. Sawyers’s excitingly integrated music marries a generous lyrical impulse to a genuine thematic substance and marvellously invigorating contrapuntal flair. The symphony in particular strikes me as a formidably intelligent, rigorous and nourishing statement in the tradition of, say, Nielsen, Rawsthorne or Simpson. Scarcely less impressive is the strikingly cogent and compact Concertante for violin, piano and strings from 2006. Certainly it enjoys dashingly eloquent advocacy from the Steinberg Duo (comprising Louisa Stonehill and Nicholas Burns on violin and piano respectively), who are in turn backed to the hilt by Woods and his admirable band. The conductor also writes an exceptionally illuminating booklet-essay.
Boasting admirable sound and judicious balance, this rewarding collection earns the strongest recommendation – and I’m already looking forward to exploring the two existing Nimbus releases devoted to Sawyers.