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John PICKARD (b. 1963)
The Flight of Icarus (1990) [20:14]
The Spindle of Necessity for trombone, percussion and strings (1998) [20:04]
Channel Firing (1993) [24:57]
Christian Lindberg (trombone)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. January 2007, April 2006, Louis De Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden. DDD 
BIS CD1578 [66:24]
Experience Classicsonline

Lancashire-born John Pickard must be pleased with this disc. He has  a quartet each of symphonies and string quartets (the latter recorded by Dutton) to his name as well as a piano concerto, an oratorio Agamemnon's Tomb (2005-7) and much else. There's more detail at the composer's website.
The earliest and most celebrated work here is The Flight of Icarus, premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Jerzy Maksymiuk in 1990. This is a tone poem on the legend of Icarus who escaped the King of Minos using wings of wax and feathers. Bravado tempted him too close to the sun and he fell when his wings disintegrated. The music is gruff and angular at first perhaps in the manner of William Schuman but with the textures thinned out. This is followed by a long-lined violin cantabile which flies at hectic exhilarating speed. The music seems to have developed from Martinů, Vaughan Williams and Tippett. The writing is no stranger to mystery and a sort of wildly triumphant rampant eagerness. This is redolent of Igor Markevitch (Marco Polo) but with more humanity than we are accustomed to from that source. When it relaxes the music falls back into mysterious sphinx-like textures as at 13:40 and into a warm ecstasy recalling the writing of Ravel and David Matthews.
In simple terms The Spindle of Necessity is a trombone concerto. The inspiration is Greek literature again, this time the final book of Plato's The Republic in which ‘The Spindle’ is the hub of the Universe. Plato weaves into this imagery the trajectory of the souls of the dead - the unjust to earth; the righteous to the heavens and to cleansing from impurity. Christian Lindberg is the poetic soloist who 'sings' the long melodic stream with fluency. The gleaming violins recall Hovhaness as does the cantorial role of the trombone - redolent of the Armenian-American's Vishnu and Etchmiadzin symphonies. Pickard also makes the trombone an agile troubadour. Some of the soloists' more pointed virtuosity may remind you of the solo line in Hoddinott's Horn Concerto (Lyrita SRCD335 - see review). The violin rustle recalls the subtle weave of the violins in Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oie and Stravinsky's Firebird. As with Icarus the piece ends with a gentle gesture - no crowd-pleaser here.
Channel Firing is dedicated to the memory of Pickard's teacher, William Mathias. The poem is likely to be known for its setting by Gerald Finzi. Thomas Hardy's poem reflects on war in a nocturnal churchyard where the distant guns rumble  such that the dead souls sit up in their graves, thinking it is Judgement Day. The music is as always deeply imaginative recalling Martinů's Gilgamesh and the rearing Wagner irruptions in Shostakovich 15. The overarching impression is one of unrest. The work’s weakness is that the turmoil that raises its head sometimes seems grafted on rather than naturally evolving. Deeply impressive though is the monumental stride of the music from 21:09 onwards.
Everything is presented with exemplary care in terms of performance and annotation. Well worth exploring.
Rob Barnett


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