JOHN PICKARD (b.1963): The Gardener of Aleppo for Flute, Viola and Harp, Daughters of Zion for Mezzo-Soprano and Ensemble, Snowbound for Bass Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Serenata Concertata for Flute and Ensemble, 3 Chicken Studies for Solo Oboe, The Phagotus of Afranio for Bassoon and Piano, Ghost-Train for Ensemble.

Catalogue Number: 05V065

Label: BIS

Reference: 2461

Format: SACD hybrid

Price: $19.98

Description: We know Pickard from his impressive output of symphonic and large-scale orchestral works (07T008, 08Q082, 03O093 etc.), but he is equally at home in works for smaller forces. These ensemble works, composed over some thirty years, show how his restless imagination, refusal to repeat himself, gift for dramatic narrative, and grasp of structure established themselves early and have served him well up to the present day. Serenata Concertata is a flute chamber concerto, a substantial work in five linked sections that in some respects is the most reminiscent of Pickard's powerful orchestral works, harmonically and in its sense of dramatic shape. Two 'Arias' carry much of the emotional weight of the piece, while a centrally placed nocturnal scherzo raises the tension. Snowbound was written during an unusual snowfall in the UK, atmospherically depicting the glittering transformation of the familiar landscape into an alien snowscape, and the claustrophobia induced by the suffocating weight of the impassable snowdrifts. The Phagotus of Afranio, a capricious divertimento, is a lighthearted, but not lightweight work depicting an absurdly over-complicated 16th century wind instrument. The humorous intent is clear, but so is the craftsmanship of this delightful little concertino-without-orchestra. More serious is The Gardener of Aleppo, a 2016 piece that commemorates a man who kept his garden centre open in the war-torn city. While not programmatic, the delicate but tough music evokes the delicate, resilient flowers and the statement that planting flowers in a war zone represents, most movingly. A final elegiac section memorialises the "father of the flowers", who was killed by a bomb. Even the tiny Chicken Studies (Pickard keeps chickens as pets, OK?) are clever miniature character studies, executed like sketches formed of a few perfectly judged pen strokes. Texts included. Nash Ensemble; Martyn Brabbins.

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