Pickard: The Flight of Icarus

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WORKS: The Flight of Icarus; The Spindle of Necessity; Channel Firing
PERFORMER: Christian Lindberg (trombone); Norrköping SO/Martyn Brabbins


A pupil of William Mathias and a great admirer of the symphonism of Robert Simpson, John Pickard is now in his mid-forties. Rhythmically dynamic, passionately concerned with processes of organic growth, his music is grounded in a much-expanded tonality that encompasses a huge and stimulating harmonic spectrum. Works for piano, string quartet and brass band have been recorded, but Pickard is a born master of the orchestra, so BIS’s imaginative decision to make this disc deserves high praise. Though not literally programmatic, the three featured works respond to extra-musical stimuli. Greek myth (but also the terrible toll in life of the manned space programme) inspires the bravura full-orchestral toccata The Flight of Icarus (1990); Plato’s speculations on the afterlife of good and bad souls, and the shape of the cosmos, shape The Spindle of Necessity for trombone, strings and percussion (1998), a richly satisfying vehicle for the incredible virtuosity of Christian Lindberg. There’s often a Holstian quality of vision to Pickard’s work: he does interstellar distances superbly. But the 1993 Channel Firing, after Thomas Hardy’s great poem on the persistence and futility of war, strikes deepest. Cast in funeral-march mode, with Götterdämmerung reminiscence, this is one of the finest British works of the 1990s. Pickard’s deep appreciation of Havergal Brian is inescapably apparent in the awesome final climax. A marvellous disc, urgently recommended. Calum MacDonald