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Nicholas SACKMAN (b. 1950)
Scorpio (1995)a [12:08]
Time-piece (1983, rev. 2002)b [8:40]
Cross hands (2002)c [10:02]
Koi (1999)d [13:13]
Sonata for Trombone and Piano (1986, rev. 1999)e [11:18]
Sextet for wind (2000)f [13:14]
Matthew Dickinson (percussion)a; Mervyn Cooke (piano)a; Fine Arts Brass Quintetb; Costas Fotopoulos piano)c; Carla Rees, Carolyn Hope, Jane Stevens, Emma Williams (flutes)d; Simon Hogg (trombone)e; Charles Matthew (piano)e; Carla Rees (flute)f; Helen Barker (oboe)f; Emily Sutcliffe (clarinet)f; John Barker (saxophone)f; Oliver Fitzgerald-Lombard (horn)f; Adam Treverton-Jones (bassoon)f
rec. Djanogly Concert Hall, University of Nottingham, September 2001 (Scorpio), July 2002 (Time-piece), August 2002 (Trombone Sonata) and December 2003 (Cross hands); and Holy Trinity Church, Weston, April 2002 (Koi, Sextet)
METIER MSV CD92049 [69:28]
While reviewing NMC’s recent recording of Meld for piano and brass (NMC D099 - see review), I complained about the scarcity of recordings of Sackman’s music. It must be said though that Metier have already recorded two substantial works of his, the Piano Sonata (MSV CD92008) and the Second String Quartet (MSV CD92016 - see review). For the sake of completeness, mention must also be made of a recording of Cecilia dances by the Hertfordshire County Youth Symphony Orchestra and of Ballo by the Luxembourg Sinfonietta.
Now comes this generous selection of contrasted chamber works written between 1983 and 2002. It fills some gaps in the composer’s hitherto sparse discography and considerably adds to our appreciation of his achievement.
Scorpio is a four-movement sonata for percussion and piano. The opening movement leads into a nocturnal slow movement followed by a lively Scherzo. The Finale reworks some material from the first movement and ends with a short coda re-visiting material from the slow movement.
The brass quintet Time-piece is the earliest work here, composed in 1983 for the Albany Brass Quintet and drastically revised in 2002; the final version heard here is little more than half of the length of the original. Moreover, the composer also realised that he had been over-ambitious and that the music was “too demanding for the players’ lungs and lips”. The revision “tries to ensure that the brightness of the ensemble is maintained whilst clarifying the melodic and harmonic features” (the composer’s words). Time-piece, too, is in three movements: the first opening with bright fanfares leading into a varied main section, a stately, almost static slow movement with a mysterious da lontano episode and a brief Scherzo. To round things off there’s a moto perpetuo of great verve. This is a most engaging, virtuosic and demanding piece.
The title of the piano piece Cross hands refers to “the arpeggiated material heard at the beginning played with the pianist’s hands crossing over each other”. The title gives an indication of the demanding and virtuosic writing displayed in this substantial work. Considerable dexterity is required as well as musicality.
The flute quartet Koi calls for four normal flutes, with two additional piccolos as well as two alto flutes and two bass flutes. The latter are humorously described as “strange beasts” by the composer. The entire flute family is used throughout the whole work. The flutes are regularly playing outside their accustomed colouristic boundaries, “their graceful way through the evocative gardens of cool sensuality”, as the composer has it. This does not mean that the players are to perform “tricks and gimmicks”. Far from that. On the whole, Koi is a really beautiful piece of music that deserves to be heard, especially when played with as much assurance and musicality as it is here.
The Trombone Sonata, another early work dating from 1986 and revised in 1999, is something of a rarity, although thanks to a number of brilliant trombone players, the repertoire is now regularly explored and enlarged. It is a compact sonata in three traditional movements. There’s a moderately fast opening, a slow song-like movement with a short central Scherzo subtly coloured by the judicious use of mutes, and a lively Finale.
The last work here, the Sextet for wind completed in 2000, is scored for the unusual combination of wind quintet and saxophone (soprano and alto). It may be the most classically structured work on this disc. It is a divertimento of sorts, quite entertaining and light-hearted throughout, with a lyrical slow movement - again with some more animated episodes. There is a short skittish Scherzo, not without some tongue-in-cheek irony, and a lively dance-like Finale. A colourful, attractive and instantly appealing work.
For all their diversity, all these works clearly come from the same pen; there is much stylistic coherence throughout. Moreover, none of them outstays its welcome, for each is perfectly proportioned and never outstretches its material.
Sackman’s music is not easily labelled. He steers clear of any current musical trends and fashions, and is happy to be himself. As such his music is uncompromisingly independent, always superbly crafted and often strongly expressive. These fine performances undoubtedly give Sackman’s music its due. Not to be missed.
Hubert Culot




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