Philip Sawyers: Symphony No. 3 – Songs of Loss and Regret – Fanfare
April Frederick, soprano
English Symphony Orchestra
English String Orchestra
Kenneth Woods, conductor
Nimbus Records, 2017
Philips Sawyers began his musical career as a violinist in 1973, and became full-time composer in 1997. In 2015, he was appointed “John McCabe’s Composer-in-Association” to the English Symphony Orchestra. From that moment onwards, the collaboration regularly produces recordings of the composer’s works (the first two Symphonies, a Cello Concerto and other works were already recorded at the time of the release of the present album) and with the composition of new works dedicated to the ensemble and to its principal conductor Kenneth Woods.
This recording is a good sample of this collaboration. It was Woods who suggested Sawyers to write the third symphony for a larger ensemble than that of his second symphony and in exchange Sawyers dedicated his new symphony to Woods. Woods also suggested to orchestrate the central work, a collection of Songs of Loss and Regret, which was originally written for soprano and piano. Finally, the last composition, Fanfare, is dedicated to Woods and to the English Symphony Orchestra.
Performing Philips Sawyers’ Works: an Overview
It is evident that this recording had a long and painstaking preparation: the first-rate quality of the performance speaks for itself.
We came to appreciate Kenneth Woods for his precision and resourcefulness and in the rendition of Sawyers’ three works he does not fail to meet expectations. As in the recording of his orchestrated version of Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 2, this recording reveals his profound understanding of the music, the consistency of his inner vision and the effective way with which he is able to communicate it.
Symphony No. 3
In the Symphony No. 3, the journey from “darkness to light” appears in all its spectacular clarity. At first, dark colours dominate – and it seems that the conductor enjoys them to conjure up the image of something brooding – but in the course of the next movements they become lighter, though not less impressive or meaningful. Lightness does not mean levity, but that a different depth has been achieved through a wide range of shades and nuances. Woods knows how to soar in climaxes and to shape the musical phrase to the slightest detail. Needless to say, to achieve such result it is necessary that the orchestra plays smoothly and high-spirited and this is the case with the English Symphony Orchestra, from which Woods draws a committed and crisp playing.
Songs of Loss and Regret
The two other works share the same outstanding result. The Songs of Loss and Regret introduce soprano April Frederick. A refined singer, Frederick already worked with the English Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of the world premiere of Joubert’s Jane Eyre, which won her critical acclaim. She sings the songs with admirable expression and commitment, without avoiding sharpness when the texts requires it (listen to the way she sings “the paths of glory lead but to the grave” in the sixth song and notice the bitter accent on the world “grave”). Her voice is beautiful, adorned by bright upper register and velvety middle register.
The last piece is a short Fanfare, lasting less than four minutes and therefore reminding of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Here we appreciate once again the amazing blend of colours and fullness of sound of the orchestra.