If the name David Hackbridge Johnson is new to most listeners, it's because he has been laboring on a large body of works in secret since he started composing at age 11. This recording on Toccata Classics by Paul Mann and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the first revelation of Johnson's ambitious music, which draws on a variety of 20th century influences, yet is robustly individualistic, thanks to the composer's confident handling of orchestral textures and sonorities. Johnson's firsthand knowledge of the orchestra comes from his experiences as a pit orchestra musician, though the clarity of his orchestration might be expected of a composer who has actually heard his music played many times and enjoyed opportunities to polish every detail. Yet Johnson has composed without benefit of performances and perfected his ideas in solitude, waiting until now to have his Symphony No. 9 in C sharp minor, Op. 295 recorded by Mann and the RLPO. This large-scale work in three movements is rather comparable to Mahler in its expansiveness and complexity, though by turns there are echoes here of Shostakovich, Janacek, Vaughan Williams, Tippett, Sibelius, Nielsen, and other masters of the modern symphony. Johnson's Communion Antiphon No. 14, Op. 359 and his Motet No. 2, Op. 257, No. 2 round out the program with distinctive scoring and memorable content, though the Symphony No. 9 is the most absorbing and satisfying work on this 2017 release. Where a ninth symphony might mark the end of a cycle for many composers (think of Beethoven, Schubert, Spohr, Dvorák, Bruckner, or Vaughan Williams), this symphony is an auspicious beginning for the unusually prolific Johnson's public career and a worthy addition to the repertoire.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 9 in C sharp minor, Op. 295|