DAVID HACKBRIDGE JOHNSON (b.1963): Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Symphony No. 9 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 295, Communion Antiphon No. 14, Op. 359 “St Boniface, Whitechaple”, Motet No. 2, Op. 257/2.
Catalogue Number: 04S008
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0393
Description: When you see that Hackbridge Johnson's ninth numbered symphony (there are five specimens of teenage juvenilia, apparently) is his Op. 295, your first reaction might be; how come I haven't heard of him, then? And upon learning that it is a fifty-minute work of powerful, cogent argument and demonstrable mastery of form and material, your second might then be; oh, come on, really? Yup. Toccata has done it again, unearthing a major composer who has been labouring away under our noses, unheralded, for decades. The symphony is very tonal and is cast in three movements; sonata form, theme and variations, and a two-part finale. The music has a distinct but indefinable English quality, but without pastoral folksiness; Walton, Rubbra and especially Havergal Brian are the comparisons that come most readily to mind, and upon learning that the composer received much encouragement over the years from Ronald Stevenson, one is not in the least surprised. The first movement has a tough, combative quality from the outset and even the contrasting lyrical second subject is unsettled and unstable. The tumultuous climax of the development is the Brianic high point of this tough, sinewy, martial brass infested movement. The following Theme and Variations puts a long-breathed theme through a wide range of timbral transformations, with a definite dramatic arc. The movement ends with a dark-hued passacaglia which builds intensity and textural complexity with each successive variation. There is something Sorabjian (in all but scale) about the processes in this movement, as there is in the large passacaglia that ends the finale, ending the work 'with supreme power and massiveness'; the composer has been sighted at some high-profile Sorabji events, so who knows whether something infiltrated his consciousness. It seems possible. The finale begins with an unstable rhythmic onslaught of energy, which yields to the crowning passacaglia. The shorter works only reinforce the impression of a composer from whom we must hear more as a matter of urgency. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Mann.