Christopher GUNNING (b. 1944)
Symphony No. 6 [22.56]
Night Voyage [12.00]
Symphony No. 7 [27.40]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Gunning
rec. 3-4 Feb 2014, Watford Town Hall.
DISCOVERY DMV112 [62.56]

Praise be, there are already recordings of many of Gunning's symphonies. I do not have a total but would guess that the seventh is his latest. The Symphony No. 2 is missing in action — which intrigues me — otherwise we have Symphony 1 on Albany, 3 and 4 on Chandos and 5 also on Discovery.
The concertos can be heard variously in harness with the symphonies. Three are coupled on a separate Discovery CD. Some years ago his Soprano Saxophone Concerto On Hungerford Bridge was recorded by John Harle. That was on ASV so is now deleted and only available through the more obscure Amazon corridors or as part of a 5CD Resonance box. His film and TV music has been the subject of a miscellany on a Chandos CD from the BBC Phil and Rumon Gamba.
While his Fifth was a big 50+ minute construct the two symphonies here are shorter. Each is less than half an hour and each is in a single movement. Gunning’s style of expression is direct. He does not hide what he has to say behind avant-garde or other opaque barriers. The music is dramatic and full of inventively communicated incident.
The most instantly memorable aspect of the Sixth is a sense of the hunt or at least of speed. If, from time to time, you think of Herrmann's tetchy and angst-ridden moodiness and of the music for the rain in Psycho then you will not be alone. The music rises to climactic statements and moves on to tenderness. The overall effect broadly places the music in the Alwyn/Sibelius category. One is often conscious of an air of regret or anxiety suggested or directly stated. This returns strongly affirmed at the end of the work's 22 minutes. In his liner-note the composer indicates his hope that the music has a strong narrative but stresses that there is no specific story.
Before the Seventh Symphony comes Night Voyage - a 12 minute mood impression - my words. This is vivacious marine music recalling the glinting dazzle of Howard Blake's film music for The Riddle of the Sands. As with so much sea music - Alfvén's Fourth Symphony, Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare, Bax's Tintagel and Fand - the work stands as an echo of mankind’s emotional travails and joy. The storm here is clearly recognisable but not as physically crushing or as imposing as the equivalent Grimes interlude. This is a completely successful piece; atmospheric and magically poised.
The Seventh Symphony is in six ‘phases’. Once again the language is seductively clear and emotional. It’s in the same melodic constituency as the other two pieces. It is a searching work and quite properly we are left to read our own emotional experiences into its 28 minutes. The music is redolent of Sibelius's Third and Sixth Symphonies crossed at times with say William Alwyn's first symphony. I mention this simply to give some, no doubt cack-handed, impression of what it sounds like rather than suggesting any lack of originality of message. Once again rushing hunting motifs are in evidence and lend the score both atmosphere and winged progress. Towards its close the music picks up something momentous and epic-cinematic. This falls away off a cliff face into a steady and quiet glow. It’s not contented but certainly it speaks of stability.
Gunning directs the RPO with whom he has worked before so what we hear can almost certainly be taken as representative of what the composer wants the music to say to us. I hope that there will be more.
The liner note is in English with French and German translations.
The recording here is stunning and gloriously revealing of instrumental detail.
All three works were composed between 2010 and 2011.
Rob Barnett


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