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John ROBERTSON (b. 1943)
Vallarta Suite, Op. 47 [24:20]
Strut in - a March (1993) [7:16]
Symphony No. 2, Op. 63 [27:08]
Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra /Anthony Armoré
rec. 2016, Concert Hall, Ostrava, Czech Republic

For those unfamiliar with the name John Robertson, as I was prior to receiving this disc for review, he is a Canada-based composer, but born in New Zealand. I was interested to read that he actually started off in the insurance business, but after settling in Canada in 1967 he embarked on a three-year course of private study with Dr. Sam Dolin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Since then, he has composed in most genres including symphonic works, opera and pieces for small ensembles. The music featured on this release is accessible and tonally-based. Self-assured, for the most part optimistic, generous on melody and colourfully scored, having listened to the disc several times, I can confidently add that it's guaranteed to lift the spirits.

The Vallarta Suite Op. 47 started life as an overture, written for the chamber orchestra that bears its name. Eventually Robertson undertook a complete revision, and the resulting four-movement suite is what we have here. These four vignettes depict aspects of life in the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta:
I. El Malecón (The Malecon)
II. Las Ballenas (Whales)
III. Excursion para hacer compras (Shopping Excursion)
IV. La Noche en la Zona Romantica (Night in the Romantic Zone)

“El Malecón” is a broad esplanade, and the music vividly portrays people relaxed and strolling in the sunshine, almost without a care in the world. In “Las Ballenas" the woodwind calls and deep brass interjections seem to mimic whale vocalizations. Yet, the music also portrays the majesty of this noble creature. What better illustration of the pleasure derived from retail therapy than in “Excursion para hacer compras”. The luminosity and stillness that opens “La Noche en la Zona Romantica” leads into a more animated section where the pleasures of nightlife provide the perfect backdrop for romantic liaisons.

Strut In - a March, Op. 34 dates from 1993. It struts out with sell-confidence and assurance, and ends in a mood of triumphant pride. Percussion and brass are expertly harnessed to effect.

Robertson's First Symphony was premiered to great critical acclaim in 2014, and he wasted no time in penning his Second; apparently he now has three symphonies under his belt. This recording is the premiere performance of the work. It's cast on a grand scale, and sumptuously orchestrated. Fanfares herald in the opening movement, which is suffused with geniality and good-humour. The second movement, marked Andante is lyrical, with long melodic lines spun out. A vibraphone adds some beguiling colour. The Passacaglia finale is the composer's respectful nod to the past. The theme is given out in the bass, and the subsequent variations reveal a wealth of ingenuity, imagination and invention in their adept instrumentation.

The CD and booklet are housed in a slim digipak, which makes good sense for those, like myself, whose space is at a premium. The performances are excellent and well-recorded. Anthony Armoré's inspirational lead and deep commitment to the composer secures favourable results from the orchestral players. All in all this is a delightful disc and each time I hear it, I come away feeling refreshed and uplifted.

Stephen Greenbank 



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