This is fabulous stuff. That, really, is all I need to say, but
I’ll say it again. This, quite simply, is fabulous stuff.
You want me to say a little more? It really would be my pleasure.
It’s a while since I discovered a contemporary composer
whose music hit me between the eyes, in the major working parts
of my brain and in my heart. This is fabulous stuff indeed. I
cannot say it enough. I am so excited by this music.
We all know at least one work by Christopher Gunning. Oh yes
we do, I’m talking to you at the back, we really do. He’s
the man responsible for the theme for TV’s Poirot
and a host of other music for TV and film such as Death on
, Hands of the Ripper
(Denis Potter’s last two plays) and so
much more, not to mention his four BAFTA and three Ivor Novello
Awards, but I really want to talk about the fabulous music on
this new disk.
I am very excited by this music for it has everything symphonic
music should have - tension, drama, a real sense of purpose,
a knowledge of where it is going and, best of all, the composer
knows that when he’s said what he has to say, and Gunning
has a lot to say, he stops. Unfortunately this latter poses a
problem for me for he seems to end too soon but in the long run
this is good for it makes me want more.
These two Symphonies are splendid achievements. The 3rd Symphony
dark and brooding for it was written at a time of crisis in the
composer’s life - his wife was hospitalized with a seeming
incurable medical problem and he was diagnosed with a heart condition.
It is natural for a composer to put personal matters into his
music and this is what Gunning does here, to try and understand
his situation. Five sections played continuously investigate
the possibilities thrown up by the opening material. It’s
cogently argued and endlessly fascinating. If Roger Wright wants
a contemporary British Symphony which could be a real and instant
winner at the Proms then this is it. It’s fabulous stuff.
The 4th Symphony
recovery of both himself and his wife from their medical problems
and there is less angst than in the earlier work, as you would
expect, but it’s still a closely argued work, never resting
in its musical quest to get the most, and the best, out of the
material employed. Here there is a more laid back, easy going,
at times English countryside, feel to the music which displays
more obvious growth, in the developmental sense of the word,
the scoring is more transparent and it ends with the most exciting
optimistic blaze of orchestral sound.
Between these two works is the delightful Oboe Concerto
written as a Christmas present for his daughter Verity, who plays
it here with the most pleasing and attractive tone I’ve
heard in some time from an oboist - very carefully controlled
vibrato, an unforced tone and seemingly miraculous breath control.
This is scored for string orchestra and is outgoing and delicate,
a real charm of a piece.
The performances are flawless, both Verity Gunning and the orchestra
are superb, the recording is excellent, so clear that you can
hear every note, and Gunning’s own notes are succinct and
The disk claims to be the first in an unfolding series and I
can hardly wait for its successor. By the way, did I mention
that this is fabulous stuff? This is a must.
And another review of the disc - from Rob Barnett
I know some of Gunning's work from his Saxophone Concerto on
ASV (White Line CD WHL2138 (2002)) and also from several of his
film scores. Chris Fifield reviewed an Albany disc of his First
a couple of years ago. I also recall reviews of
his symphonic work for brass band: Yorkshire
. I was pleased and intrigued to see this CD of his
seriously intended orchestral music.
He was born in Cheltenham and has been a pupil of Rubbra, Richard
Rodney Bennett, James Gibb - whose piano
have been reissued on Lyrita recently - and Brian
Trowell. In addition to the works here he has a string quartet
and concertos for clarinet and for piano
his name. His writing for the screen includes a score for Firelight
There's more to see at his website
His concert music is predominantly tonal but with the freedom
to adopt dissonance to suit mood and trajectory.
While the two symphonies here have a single movement apiece each
is helpfully tracked into five segments. The Third emanates from
a tortured time in the composer's life. This shows in the occlusion
of expression: the shadows, hesitation, even desolation that
characterises much of the music. There is a moment of transitory
triumph at 4:27 in the first track but the downward tug into
fear is dominant. It is typical of this composer that his writing
is diaphanous and this work is no exception. In the first section
the writing for strings melds with the resonance of bells. This
active filigree is also in play in the final pages which offer
impudence but little optimism and yet more disillusion. If this
symphony carries a doom-laden burden then the Fourth Symphony,
written after recovery from serious illness by Gunning and his
wife, is more triumphant. Adversity conquered seems to be the
message. A glorious fanfaring dialogue surmounts the first section
at 4:12 and in doing so reminds us of Copland and Alwyn. It returns
in echoing triumph in the final episode.
The Oboe Concerto is here played most skilfully and with great
sensitivity by the composer's daughter. This is her first entry
as soloist into the world of recording. The Concerto is intended
to reflect Verity's character: "thoughtful and sometimes
quirky". It's certainly contemplative, pensive and interspersed
with flurries of quirky activity. Its perkily active final movement
reminded me of the dancing finale of Malcolm Arnold's Oboe Concerto.
The composer speaks of a middle eastern tinge to the music but
I must say it did not register with me.
The other two symphonies should follow from Chandos in the fullness
of time - but how long? Soon I hope.
These substantial works will repay closer attention. For all
that they are principally tonal their rewards are yielded up
only after repeat listening. Instantly gripping melodic ideas
are not on offer here though the writing does beckon the listener