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Robin WALKER (b. 1953)
Orchestral Music
Great Rock is Dead: Funeral March (2007) [9:46]
Odysseus on Ogygia: Prelude (2011) [5:27]
The Stone King: Symphonic Poem (2005) [11:18]
The Stone Maker: Symphonic Poem (1996) [31:42]
Novaya Rossiya Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Walker
rec. 2-5 September 2015, Studio 5, Russian State TV, Kultura, Moscow.

How many contemporary composers write symphonic poems? It's an 'old bottle' and very few purveyors of new wine favour the form. From time to time there is talk about the symphony being dead but the debate is more pertinent when it comes to the symphonic poem or tone poem. It's very much of the 19th century with an overhang into the twentieth. Among late twentieth century British composers there's only Anthony Payne and Peter Crossley-Holland who leap to mind as having written multiple tone poems, although I am sure others will have laboured in obscurity.

Here, however, is a York-born English composer, now in his sixties, who is drawn to the form and the manner. Of the four works featured two are not termed 'symphonic poem' although their bearing is very much that of the form, The Funeral March, Great Rock is Dead was written in the wake of the death of Walker's father. It is stoical, darkly intense and even oppressive. It is not hard going in any avant-garde sense. The style is unflinchingly serious and rises to heroic statement. The patina of the music takes much from Sibelius with its finale strongly drawing on the example of that composer. In describing Walker's soundworld one can think very approximately in terms of Arthur Butterworth, of Bruckner in the grander protesting pages of his last two symphonies and of Havergal Brian. We certainly get to hear some imperious work for brass. In the short Odysseus prelude an initially harp-articulated pulse underpins the whole of this tension-imbued work. The Prelude has been extracted from the opera but given a concert ending. The opera Odysseus on Ogygia occupied Walker from 1997 to 2007.

The Stone King is a short symphonic poem. As it turns out it serves as an object lesson in fine recording quality with the growl of the deep brass nicely barked out from the right-hand channel. A growling truculence is one of the hallmarks of Robin Walker's music and Alexander Walker and the Novaya Rossiya orchestra do nothing to dilute it. Thrawn and busy textures are also common to all these works. The Stone Maker is the single longest work featured. It is the oldest here and in all probability bears the influence of David Lumsdaine who for many years was a major influence on this composer. It's less yielding than the other three with its plunging Schoenbergian complexity and Leifs-style protest; a real cauldron of discontent.

The typically thorough and in-depth documentation is in English only. It falls into two parts: a note by the composer and a probing interview between the composer and Toccata's guide and driving/driven impulse, Martin Anderson.

It's heartening that music like this was being written in the 1990s and 2000s.

Rob Barnett



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