COMPOSERS: David Sawer
WORKS: Byrnan Wood
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: D 018S DDD
For a moment, it could be Steve Reich, using repetition to change ‘something that is still into something that moves’ in ever more resourceful ways. The evocations of Debussy and Stravinsky come coated, however, with all the postmodern knowingness of a young European with an acute response to the resonances, dangerous as well as delightful, of the orchestral traditions to which he alludes so brilliantly.
For the idea of making something stationary appear to move, by passing similar sounds around the orchestra, comes from the 34-year-old English composer David Sawer. And as its title suggests, the inspiration for Byrnan Wood’s exploration of how sound may appear to move in space, in the context of rhythmic grids which become more march-like as the work proceeds, comes from the camouflaged advance of Malcolm’s army on Dunsinane Castle in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
I heard Sawer’s 1992 Prom commission (not 1991 as stated in Andrew Clements’s note; though I should say that I’m reviewing from pre-release materials) in the Albert Hall, where it failed to make its intended impact. Maybe only a really sympathetic concert hall would yield all the details conjured by this composer from his orchestral forces. But this NMC recording makes available what turns out to be one of the best works premiered at the Proms this decade. Keith Potter