Christian Lindberg / Martyn Brabbins / Norrköping Symphony Orchestra

John Pickard: The Flight of Icarus; The Spindle of Necessity; Channel Firing

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The music of British composer John Pickard (born 1963) is notable for the brilliance of its orchestration and its unflagging inventiveness. He writes in a freely tonal idiom that gives his works an immediate accessibility, and the three pieces here are idiomatically related, but have strongly differentiated characters. The Flight of Icarus, while not specifically programmatic, is based on the imagery of Icarus' and his father Daedalus' escape from Crete, their flight over the sea on wings made of wax and feathers, and Icarus' fall to death after he flew too close to the sun. The story provides a dramatic narrative framework and the opportunity to write soaring, ecstatic music depicting flight; it's a wonder, in fact, that not more composers have turned to this myth for inspiration. Pickard's work has a relentless energy that's partly generated by the work's rhythmic drive and partly by the profligacy of its motivic ideas, which keep tumbling out in reckless profusion. Pickard's use of percussion is especially effective, and the scoring frequently has a shimmering iridescence that captures the exhilaration of flight and the play of light in the sky and on the water. The Spindle of Necessity, based freely on Plato's ideas of the afterlife, is a concerto for trombone accompanied by strings and percussion. It's a more serene and reflective work, and trombone virtuoso Christian Lindberg plays it with technical assurance and depth of feeling. Channel Firing is a sober but passionate reflection on Thomas Hardy's poem of the same name, which describes the emotions stirred by hearing gunnery practice just before the First World War. Even though it doesn't have Icarus' sonic brilliance, it's the most expressively varied and emotionally engaging selection here. Martyn Brabbins leads the Norrköping (Sweden) Symphony Orchestra in hugely energetic and exuberant performances. Pickard's work demonstrates his imaginative and orchestrational mastery in the genre of the modern tone poem, and his music should strongly appeal to mainstream concert audiences.

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