Symphonies Nos 2, 10 & 12
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Kenneth Woods
Signum Classics SIGCD 593 78:07 mins
The idle presumption that people who have found success with TV and film scores cannot stretch themselves beyond writing short cues is knocked on the head with Christopher Gunning (b1944). In the last 18 years the British composer for the Poirot series and Rosemary & Thyme has produced 12 symphonies, with nine of them now recorded; there are numerous concertos too. The three symphonies here definitely reveal a substantial concert composer whose stylistic influences and allegiances – Sibelius, Malcolm Arnold and Walton come easily to mind – never prevent him writing very individual music.
Like Sibelius, Gunning believes in binding symphonies together with constantly mutating themes and mood changes that creep up by degrees. None of the trio here escapes dark thoughts, certainly not the one-movement Symphony No. 10 from 2016, or the more expansive No. 2 (2002), previously unperformed and now extensively revised. In both, mood and theme transformations are pursued through a slippery eel kind of tonality. The Twelfth (2018), simpler and more settled, still has its burden of sorrow, movingly expressed in the last of its two movements, inspired by a friend’s funeral and tolled in by bells.
In his orchestrations Gunning likes to exploit the lower brass, with the bass clarinet, contra bassoon and bass trombone all in the spotlight at times. His rippling harps may be overdone, but there’s no doubt that Kenneth Woods and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales really enjoy themselves performing such personable and communicative music. The recorded sound is excellent too.