CHRISTOPHER TYLER NICKEL (b.1978): Symphony No. 2.
Catalogue Number: 05W008
Reference: AV 2456
Description: This is an unusual, but compelling, tonal, large-scale symphony in a single span that will likely appeal strongly to admirers of the 'school' of 20th-century Nordic symphonists, with whom it shares a preoccupation with obsessive ostinati (see also 10W064). Its predominantly dark-hued and brooding temperament, punctuated by episodes of intense confrontation, is accounted for by the composer’s revealing comments: "One can think of this music as consisting of mirrors between ideas [that are themselves] conceivably valid, but when facing each other friction and dissonance are created. Perhaps another way to understand the symphony is as a meditation on the state of cognitive dissonance." This is in fact a rather precise description of the symphony’s processes and argument. The symphony is built on minimal material, much of it small cells or motifs built on oscillating intervals, mostly suggesting minor chords. It opens with such a passage, looming and tenebrous, which soon develops into motivic material reminiscent of the noble theme that opens Shostakovich 12 (before being overwhelmed by Soviet bombast), accompanied by the fateful rising horn motif from Pettersson 7. When the first confrontation occurs it is with an aggressive falling motif, and this dissonant mirroring of intervals is central to the work’s argument. There is development throughout the symphony’s almost hour-long span, as the basic material evolves on successive appearance, and new versions of the oscillating ostinato figures emerge as the work progresses, at one point introducing an arpeggiated figure that suggests Rachmaninov's The Isle of the Dead. In the final section, the composer ingeniously constructs a valedictory climax from his basic intervallic material, though tellingly this is immediately followed by a recapitulation of the very opening, suggesting that the opposing forces are never destined to reach a real resolution, and the end of the work is powerful but inconclusive. Northwest Sinfonia; Clyde Mitchell.