> WHETTAM Concerto Drammatico RR017 [HC]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Graham WHETTAM (b.1927)
Concerto Drammatico; Sinfonia contra timore

Martin Rummel (vlc); Sinfonia da Camera, Urbana, Illinois/Ian Hobson;
Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Günter Blumhagen
(British Orchestral Music Vol 2)
rec: Concerto; Sept 2000 Univ Illinois;Sinfonia; Oct 75 German Radio
REDCLIFFE RECORDINGS RR 017 [60.00] Midprice

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Graham Whettam’s Concerto Drammatico for cello and orchestra is actually a reworking-with-extension of his earlier Cello Concerto written in 1962 and first performed in 1981 by Robert Cohen with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Timothy Reynish. At that time the piece was in two predominantly slow movements described by the composer as scenas for cello and orchestra. In 1998 the composer slightly revised the original scenas and added a new Scherzo to be framed by the slow Scena and Ultima Scena, as the slow movements have now been renamed. After listening to this recording of Concerto Drammatico, I looked through my "sound archives" and unearthed the tape of the broadcast performance of the 1962 Cello Concerto. Rehearing it after many years convinced me that the 1962 work was a quite impressive piece of music and a musically satisfying work in its own right. The inclusion of the newly written Scherzo rather widens the emotional scope of the original work which was mainly a meditative, elegiac, if at times angry, piece in which carefully placed, powerful climaxes provide dynamic contrast. In its present form, Concerto Drammatico retains the emotionally-charged expressive power of the original while adding more dramatic contrasts through the inclusion of the Scherzo. In any form, however, Concerto Drammatico is a powerfully gripping piece of music and one of Whettam’s greatest achievements. A wonderful live performance by Martin Rummel for whom Whettam also wrote some solo pieces.

Whettam’s Sinfonia contra timore of 1962, his earliest acknowledged symphony, is actually his fourth symphony. (The first three symphonies written in the 1950s were discarded by the composer as was an early Oboe Concertino, though the latter was performed at a Proms Concert.) The piece is dedicated to "Bertrand Russell and all other people who suffer imprisonment or other injustice for the expression of their beliefs...". (At that time, i.e. at the heart of the Cold War and in the heat of the Cuba crisis, Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for inciting people to civil disobedience.) However, this is no programmatic piece; rather a man’s reactions to the world events, and thus a deeply personal statement evoking violence and injustice (another form of violence), sadness, despair and ultimately some renewed optimism in Man’s common sense. Whettam nevertheless chose to express his innermost thoughts in purely abstract, symphonic, universal terms. The first movement acts as a menacing prelude leading into a nervous, agitated Allegro molto – Con energia incisa launched by one of Whettam’s favourite formulas: unison horns and trumpets ushering in a powerful theme. This gives way to a violently energetic dance that moves along unabated till a mighty glissando heralds the final slow movement - actually two slow outer sections framing a central Scherzo. The opening of the symphony is recalled and a massive crescendo unleashes the final Allegro deciso. The mood is not unlike that of the first movement. The music pauses in a slower section redolent of the introduction before resuming its initial drive hurling the work to its defiant conclusion. The present 1975 performance by the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Günter Blumhagen is simply superb and no wonder that it led to the writing of Sinfonia Drammatica, completed in 1978 and first performed that year by the present conductor.

Whettam is a born individualist going his own way regardless of any trendy fashion. He is his own man throughout and sees that his music communicates through its sheer expressive power. Both pieces in this release are wonderful examples of Whettam’s powerfully expressive and deeply human music. I have no reservation whatsoever in recommending this release that puts Whettam’s music back "on the map" which it should never have deserted. I now hope that we might soon have a recording of Sinfonia Drammatica.

Hubert Culot

See also review by Lewis Foreman

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