BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Richard Watkins (horn) Wissam Boustany (flute)
This is the fourth Chandos CD dedicated to the music of Edward Gregson and the second conducted by Bramwell Tovey. Yet more than any other disc in the series so far, this is one that is underpinned by a sense of journey. That journey begins with the Horn Concerto of 1971, a work familiar to band enthusiasts given it original brass band accompaniment and previous recordings by Ifor James with Besses o’th’Barn and Frank Lloyd with Desford Colliery. Only last year, however, did Gregson finally orchestrate the original band accompaniment, making some minor, but telling embellishments to the harmony and counterpoint along the way. Richard Watkins is an engaging soloist in this new version, from the terse opening movement to the languid tranquillity at the heart of the slow movement and the joie de vivre of the Finale whilst the beautifully nuanced orchestration lends the work a resonance that conjures with new and fascinating colours.
More impressive still is the sheer emotive power of Dream Song. Written in 2010, to be played alongside Mahler 6th Symphony, the composer’s web of deft Mahlerian inflection and quotation is played out against a haunted nocturnal landscape, in which flickering thematic and textural figures play with the mind amidst rapidly shifting vistas, moods and beguiling orchestration.
That just leaves the most recent work, Aztec Dances of 2013, a concerto for flute and ensemble in which the excellent soloist, Wissam Boustany, is pitted against a 14-piece chamber ensemble, with the composer drawing his inspiration from the ceremonies and rites of the Aztec Civilisation. The fact that the final Sacrificial Dance concludes with a Stravinskian shriek seems entirely appropriate, given the dramatic nature of the sound world the composer creates, although it is the tense, ominous atmosphere of the extended slow movement, Ghost Song, that is the core of what is a gripping and imaginative score. […] this is a fascinating exploration of Gregson’s music over a 40-year period and not to be missed.
Christopher Thomas, Brass Band World Magazine, 8/1/2014
Edward Gregson has a formidable standing as a brass band composer, and his links with that world are writ large in the Horn Concerto composed with brass band accompaniment in 1971 and only arranged for full orchestra two years ago. Written for the great Ifor James, the Horn Concerto is technically virtuoso and substantial in length. […]
…the structure and internal processes of his works follow their own particular paths. This is most noticeable in Aztec Dances (2013), the most recent work here, a fizzingly gripping chamber Flute Concerto that originated as a recorder-and-piano duo in 2010, inspired by the British Museum’s splendid ‘Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler’ exhibition. Gregson was fired by the role of music in Aztec life and has succeeded in imagining himself – from a 500-year distance – into Aztec ritual.
Wissam Boustany and Richard Watkins play with superlative technique and verve in the two concertos but the same must be averred for the BBC Philharmonic, well marshalled by Bramwell Tovey and caught in sumptuous Chandos sound. There really is something for everyone in this disc – glorious tunes, stimulatingly serious expression, brilliant orchestration: a very Gregsonian cocktail. Enjoy!
Guy Rickards, Gramophone, 9/1/2014