Philip Sawyers (born 1951) is an Englishman, a Londoner by birth, and he is doing well by the Nimbus Alliance label (four previous releases of his music) and through Kenneth Woods’s championing; he has recorded two of those four issues.
This fifth includes Sawyers’s Violin Concerto (2018), which opens wistfully (reminding of Barber’s example initially, later Menotti’s – men with a professional and private relationship) until becoming more agitated to reveal full-scale romantic and dramatic emotions, and a cadenza that reminds of Bartók – I mention other composers simply as a clue to Sawyers’s expression. The middle movement is chilly but tender (with the shadow of Prokofiev) if becoming a scherzando – Sawyers’s music doesn’t stand still for long, nor does it jump around disconnectedly, and the Finale lightly dances and includes lyrical asides, deftly orchestrated. Perhaps though one is looking for greater compositional personality that is on display here; however there is much to attract, and Alexander Sitkovetsky plays with considerable attention and technical brio.
The Valley of Vision (2017) – artist Samuel Palmer’s name for his bit of Kent – is a rhapsodic piece in the mould of Frank Bridge, music that is moonlit and mystical, until an agitated Allegro arrives, maybe rather (too) suddenly. If Sawyers’s music (so far) is immediately appealing, it also (at least for me) fades from the memory rather too easily. Yet the 2015 Trumpet Concerto (of similar length to the Violin Concerto, twenty-seven minutes) hangs around long after auditioning. It opens in strident terms, with stalking rhythms and a dark lyricism, and plenty of notes for the trumpeter, a fearless display from Simon Desbruslais. Maybe I was by now getting the hang of this composer, not that there is anything difficult about his music, or easy, but I was much more involved here, and the central Andante (the longest movement) has regret, melancholy and emotive unrest as absorbing (entwined) features, although I did wonder if it could be a little shorter; there’s a passage of silence about two-thirds through that might be a good place to stop.
And was it such a good idea to follow this Concerto with another work for trumpet (better placed between the VC and Valley), the Elegiac Rhapsody (2016) “... in response to the sad death of John McCabe”. It’s a touching piece though that laments edgily and with serene resignation, with a little rhythmic dancing as contrast.
Excellent performances, first-class sound, and comprehensive and erudite booklet notes from the composer and the conductor.