Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Symphony No. 1 (1984)
New Zealand SO/James Sedares
Gnomics (1981)
Randy Bowman (fl) Laura Ahlbeck (ob) Laura Flax (cl)
Tribulations - song cycle (1988)
Mary Ann Hart (mezzo) composer (piano)
Viola Sonata (1989)
Misha Amory (viola) Blanca Uribe (piano)

Are two composers at work here? In the Gnomics and Tribulations sardonic observation and an acrid sense of humour and the absurd are to the fore. The music takes in facets of Satie's grotesquerie, Berners' eccentricity and Britten's cabaret songs. The poems in Tribulations are often genuinely witty and they are aptly set. I wondered about the alleged A E Housman setting and remain dubious about the origins of the poem. It is however a genuinely witty piece of work and the same goes for the other songs.

Pleased to be asked to review this disc, I have now heard the symphony three times. Wilson is clearly no conjurer of mists. Clarity of line is a strength in this work in much the same way as it is in Walter Piston's works of the 1960s. Tonality is strained tight across a framework of four movements in which variety of dynamics adds drama. I was not captivated but there is much of interest to anyone in thrall to Frankel's symphonies (you may know them through CPO's CD series).

Revealing notes by the composer are joined by Peter Laki's introduction. The texts of the songs are not given but the singing is of such excellence that the words can easily be made out.

I noted that the sonata after asserting a typically Baxian-Slav romance swerved into a rasping lilt of subtle dissonance encountered also in the later chamber music of Benjamin Frankel. This is quite an arresting piece.

Let's bear in mind that this disc will serve as an attractive calling card for a composer determined, I hope, to make this the first rather than the one and only disc by which he is represented. Can we expect another disc with the second symphony of 1986?


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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