CHRISTOPHER GUNNING (b.1944): Symphonies No. 2, No. 10 and No. 12.
Catalogue Number: 01V001
Description: Gunning has established himself as a very considerable symphonist in the British tonal tradition (06K099, 09P008, 11Q007), and this outstanding release more than confirms this impression. The single-span Tenth Symphony's opening is an ominous, glowering introduction, from which emerges a sudden anguished figure in the strings' high register, strangely reminiscent of Pettersson (though little else about the music is). The movement then develops along more optimistic, flowing lines, and reveals itself to be developing organically in the manner of very free variations on the opening material. The overall mood remains serious - now heroic, now mysterious, now suggesting a Romantic landscape with birdcalls - gaining momentum throughout until a powerful and decisive climax is reached. This storms to a close to be replaced by a slow section and an expectant, bubbling quasi-scherzo. This becomes progressively more martial and mechanical, propelling the music forward into a ponderous climax which gives way to the work’s crepuscular ending, a lonely bugle call sounding in the gathering darkness. The 12th is in two movements. The first begins in a relaxed vein, with an 'outdoor' quality and a somewhat Nielsenesque feel, which leads to alternate lyrical and dramatic episodes. After establishing this bucolic mood, the music takes a more agitated and dynamic turn, propelling itself into a powerful climax. This abruptly dissipates and a rhythmic motif from the opening of the symphony introduces a kind of recapitulation of the lyrical nature-music, imbued with calm grandeur and mystery, from the beginning. The second movement was inspired by the funeral of a friend of the composer’s, and we might all wish to be eulogised this eloquently when the time comes. A bell summons the faithful, and the movement proceeds as a calm elegy in which different voices offer heartfelt reflections on the life of the departed. The camera zooms out, so to speak, to offer an imposing widescreen view of the English landscape beloved of the composer’s friend, before the bell returns to usher in a sombre farewell. The tense, chromatic Second is a consistently darker work than the other two here, and significantly larger, in three movements. The Third (06K099) from two years later than the original version of No.2 (which the composer revised extensively in 2018 for this recording, its first public outing), was a troubled work, connected to events in the composer’s life at that time, so its predecessor may also reflect some autobiographical trauma. It sounds like it. The first movement is full of foreboding from the outset, and becomes increasingly agitated as it obsessively develops the opening themes and arrives at its stormy central climax. An ominous 'ticking' motif keeps recurring, like a warning. The movement subsides into the uneasy darkness of the opening. The slow movement is withdrawn, hushed and elegiac, suddenly climaxing in a brief passionate outburst, rapidly stifled. The finale opens eruptively. Active and initially jaunty, though edgy and unsettled, it takes on an increasingly aggressive, martial air, finally climaxing in a series of pounding chords and a forceful statement of the symphony’s opening theme. BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Kenneth Woods.