John Pickard: Tenebrae; Piano Concerto; Sea-Change / Fredrik Ullén, piano


One can gather quite a bit about the music of British composer John Pickard (born 1963) from the opening track of this BIS CD, the first movement of his Piano Concerto, completed in 2000. It's apparent that rhythm plays a very important thematic role in the music; it's rhythm that's jazz-influenced, as are the harmonies. In an extremely free way, the music is tonal, and very colorful. The rest of the concerto, and the remaining sixty-five minutes on the disc in fact, bear out these initial impressions. Two other Pickard works written ten years on either side of the Piano Concerto are included; they are Sea-Change (1989) and Tenebrae (2009). Spanning twenty years, the program provides an overview of the composer's development in writing for orchestra.

The music is evocative - moods and atmospheres are created and transform very fluidly. Sometimes it's humorous, tongue in cheek. It can sneer or scoff, sound absurd and comical, dark and powerful, and is always interesting. The earlier work, Sea-Change, is less challenging than the later two having been written for and premiered by the Bangor University Symphony Orchestra. The later pieces demand extraordinary virtuosity from the orchestra. In the Piano Concerto, there are the angular jazzy rhythms with slapdash off-beats and in Tenebrae, vast dynamic and register range demands. The album track provided for you to hear is the opening to Tenebrae. Toward the end of the sample, listen to the effect of what sounds like contrabassoons and contrabass trombones of the orchestra winding down to nearly a halt and then winding up again. It's an amazing bit of imagination and creative orchestration.

Performers are the Swedish Norrköping Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Martyn Brabbins and pianist Fredrik Ullén performs in the concerto. BIS provides their customary impeccable sonics for this revelatory recording of John Pickard's music.