John Pickard: Piano Concerto

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COMPOSERS: John Pickard
ALBUM TITLE: John Pickard: Piano Concerto
WORKS: Piano Concerto; Sea-Change; Tenebrae
PERFORMER: Fredrik Ullén (piano); Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins


This may be one of the most important contemporary orchestral CDs of 2013. John Pickard (b.1963) doesn’t have as high a profile as some of his British peers, but on this showing his works should be programmed a great deal more frequently. The orchestral piece Sea-Change (1989) is, among many other things, an exhilarating rhythmic study that breaks out into a final section of Boléro-like impetus and power. In stark contrast stands Tenebrae (2009), presenting an unfolding orchestral drama that Pickard likens to the ‘psychological and spiritual darkness’ that ultimately overwhelmed the 16th-century composer and murderer Carlo Gesualdo (the materials of the work derive from a fragment of Gesualdo’s Tristis est anima mea). Symphonic in scale and scope, this magnificently sombre piece, glorying in the deepest and darkest orchestral sonorities, prompts comparisons with Sibelius’s Tapiola and Birtwistle’s Triumph of Time.

Pickard’s Piano Concerto (2000), with its three-movement layout of effervescent Toccata, deeply reflective Passacaglia and wiry concluding Fuga, is perhaps a more orthodox conception than the other works. But the remarkable pianist Fredrik Ullén ensures that the outer movements are virtuoso showpieces, while the central one – the largest of the three – beguiles and intrigues in equal measure. Martyn Brabbins puts plenty of fire into the Norrköping players in presenting this full-blooded, ferociously positive music. BIS’s sonics are first-rate. An absolute triumph.


Calum MacDonald