Sawer

COMPOSERS: Sawer
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Sawer
WORKS: From Morning to Midnight – symphonic suite; Tiroirs; the greatest happiness principle; The Memory of Water
PERFORMER: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Susanna Mälkki, Martyn Brabbins; BBC SO/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: D 116
Are orchestral suites drawn from operas ever truly satisfactory? Even Berg’s Lulu Suite (one of the best examples) ultimately has something strangely inchoate about it. The abiding impression left by the Suite from Stockport-born composer David Sawer’s 2001 English National Opera commission From Morning to Midnight is that the appetite is strongly whetted, but ultimately left unsated by the lack of voices. This is flintily expressionistic music, needle-sharp in texture, superbly scored, and powerfully projected in this BBC performance by Martyn Brabbins, who conducted the premiere both of this and the opera from which it is derived.

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Brabbins also presides over two shorter pieces. Particularly impressive is The Memory of Water, a jittering, mysteriously ululating composition for two violins with 11 solo strings accompanying, which has an economy and precision of aural imagination reminiscent of Britten. Opening the programme is Tiroirs, a single-movement work for large chamber ensemble, where Sawer’s concept is of musical fragments and images appearing, then abruptly disappearing like a drawer shutting, ‘to simultaneously reveal and conceal an ever-changing sequence of musical pattern and detail’. The piece accordingly flits jerkily from one idea to another, but isn’t ‘bitty’ – glisteningly chiselled scoring and Susanna Mälkki’s assured baton keep it all coherently together. Terry Blain