HUW WATKINS (b.1976): Symphony, Flute Concerto (Adam Walker [flute], Hallé Orchestra; Ryan Wigglesworth), Violin Concerto (Alina Ibragimova [violin], BBC Symphony Orchestra; Edward Gardner).
Catalogue Number: 10U010
Description: Rapidly emerging as one of the most significant of the younger generation of British composers, Watkins further consolidates his position with these three substantial recent works. If John Pickard is arguably the leading light of the Nordic / Simpson arc in contemporary British symphonic thinking, then Watkins seems set to inherit the mantle of the more characteristically English tradition represented by Britten and Tippett. The concerti are in the traditional three-movement form, but are very different in character. The Flute Concerto is scintillatingly virtuosic throughout, fully exploiting the flexibility and timbral expressiveness of the instrument, in a lively dialogue with the orchestra - sometimes disputative, sometimes mutually supportive, and sometimes venturing into darker, more obsessive territory, with the composer's trademark small gestures repeating and growing in fractal efflorescence, not infrequently inhabiting a similar soundworld to the swirling spirals (as opposed to linear minimalism) of Thomas Adès in such works as In Seven Days (01N085) or Polaris (04S078), though Watkins is more concerned with rigor of form in his use of sonata, rondo and other forms. The first and last movements are restless and energetic; the slow movement, which features a prominent flute motif borrowed from Shostakovich - you can't miss it - is the emotional core of the work. The Violin Concerto is extrovert and passionate. In this case, the soloist is unmistakably at odds with the orchestra, in episodes of furiously intense confrontation alternating with passages of searing lyricism, the violin required to exert the most strenuously frenetic efforts to ward off assaults by bass drum artillery and aggressive textures that threaten to overwhelm it. The Symphony is cast in an unusual two-movement form that contains elements of traditional symphonic thinking which produce a familiar sense of conflict and resolution and a cumulative dramatic arc. The momentum of the first movement sweeps all before it, even when it deviates into secondary and tertiary material, in an evolving, organic symphonic argument worthy of Sibelius. The second movement contains elements of slow movement, gradually passing through a series of episodes of accelerating tempo and cumulative density until at the end the juggernaut abruptly drives off a cliff, mid-phrase, and is suddenly ... gone.