The Five Sacred Trees

Author: 
Andrew Achenbach

The Five Sacred Trees

  • Symphony No. 2, 'Mysterious mountain'
  • Old and Lost Rivers
  • Tree Line
  • (The) Five Sacred Trees (Concerto for Bassoon and

Commissioned by the NYPO for its sesquicentennial in 1995, John Williams’s concerto for bassoon and orchestra was inspired by the five sacred trees of Celtic mythology, as well as the composer’s own profound love of the forest. “Within the tree community,” writes Williams in Sony’s exemplary booklet, “there lies more music than anywhere else in the Western world. It is impossible to stand under the high arching boughs of ancient trees and not wonder if the architecture of cathedrals was not born of just such an experience.” Certainly, the ruminative strains of the opening movement, “Eo Mugna” (The Oak), effortlessly convey an awestruck contemplation and strong sense of pantheistic wonder. Next comes the jig-like “Tortan” (The Tree of Witchcraft), which is portrayed in music of infectious mischief and bounce (with just a nod of acknowledgement to Dukas’s L’apprenti sorcier at the close). By contrast, the ensuing “Eo Rossa” (The Yew) is bathed in Celtic enchantment and boasts some ravishing dialogue between solo bassoon and harp. “Craeb Uisnig” (The Ash) is a spectral scherzo, its progress fraught with nervous anxiety, whereas the concluding “Dathi” glows with a self-communing mystery apt for a tree signifying the muse of poets (and what beautiful woodwind sonorities there are at the outset). Williams has penned a highly imaginative, impeccably crafted score which will surely give great pleasure to many. Marvellous solo playing from Judith LeClair, excellently partnered by the LSO conducted by the composer.
The arboreal theme continues with Toru Takemitsu’s Tree line, an ecstatically luminous ten-minute essay dating from 1988, orchestrated with exquisite delicacy. The performance of Alan Hovhaness’s Second Symphony (Mysterious mountain) swells the number of current versions listed on the Gramophone Database to four. Suffice to report, Williams’s affectionate account more than holds its own against the distinguished predecessors listed above. I appreciate the easy flow of Williams’s conception, not to mention the tenderness and warmth of the LSO’s polished response. Finally, there’s Tobias Picker’s wonderful Old and Lost Rivers (1986), a haunting miniature, full of a sultry nostalgia which seems to distil the very essence of America’s Deep South.
An appealing and enterprising anthology, beautifully realized by all involved.'

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