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.
‘A born master of the orchestra’ is how the British composer John Pickard was described when BBC Music Magazine reviewed a previous disc of his orchestral music, while Fanfare called it ‘essential listening for lovers of modern music’, finding the performances ‘absolutely thrilling, emotionally involved and seamlessly evolved’. Given such reactions, it is not surprising that Pickard, Martyn Brabbins and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra decided to continue their rewarding collaboration, with results that can be heard on the present disc. The three pieces included span three decades, and in his own liner notes to the disc, Pickard remarks that the programme gives an overall sense of his development as an orchestral composer: ‘from the clear outlines of the early Sea-Change, with its indebtedness to the sound-world of several Nordic composers, through the colourful exuberance of the Piano Concerto, to the darkness and turbulence of Tenebrae.’ Completed in 2009, Tenebrae takes as its starting point a fragment from Carlo Gesualdo’s Tristis est anima mea (Sad is my soul) from the composer’s settings for the Tenebrae services of Holy Week. The work is in itself a result of the earlier collaboration between Pickard and these performers; commissioned by the Norrköping orchestra which gave it its première in 2010, it is dedicated to Martyn Brabbins. Joining the team on this disc is Fredrik Ullén, making his first recording with orchestra after a number of highly praised solo recitals. John Pickard’s piano concerto has three movements, Toccata - Passacaglia - Fuga, forming a continuous span. During the course of the thirty minute-long work, three different basic relationships between soloist and orchestra are explored: dialogue, dominance and partnership, the latter illustrated in the closing double fugue, throughout which the soloist and the orchestra work together very much as a team.
John Pickard was born on 11 September, 1963 and started to compose at an early age. John Pickard is best known for a series of powerful orchestral and instrumental works. He has written four symphonies and other orchestral works of symphonic dimensions: Sea-Change (1989), The Flight of Icarus (1990), Channel Firing (1992-93) and the Trombone Concerto: The Spindle of Necessity (1997-98).
The Swedish pianist Fredrik Ullén has performed as a soloist in contemporary and classical/romantic literature at a large number of international music festivals, to outstanding critical acclaim. Ullén’s large repertoire includes many of the most complex and demanding works in the piano literature, such as Ligeti’s complete piano études, Reger’s Spezialstudien and music by Sorabji.
The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra has the reputation of being one of the most exciting orchestras in Scandinavia. Through foreign tours and an extensive CD production the orchestra has developed a large following and much well-deserved respect on the international stage. The orchestra was founded in 1912 and today comprises 85 musicians. Through its long and rich history it maintains a special place in Sweden’s cultural life.
British conductor Martyn Brabbins is Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic and Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Brabbins is known for his affinity with music of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, to which he brings a Romantic sensibility, unerring sense of pace and an extraordinary ear for detail.
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