Sinfonias Nos 1 & 4*
National Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
NSO NSO0002-D 11:22 mins *NSO0005-D 9:41 mins
It’s 25 years since George Walker (1922-2018) won the Pulitzer prize for music, a high point in a long and distinguished career which included many ‘firsts’ as a Black American composer and teacher. Yet international interest has only recently gained momentum, spurred this year by his centenary. Hence Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra’s new series of digital releases of Walker’s five orchestral sinfonias. Adroitly conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, initial releases comprise Sinfonias Nos 1 and 4, the first composed in 1984 and the second in 2012 – at age 90.
Both last around ten minutes, yet teem with a colour, drive and invention which brilliantly showcase Walker’s distinctive post-Berg, post-Stravinsky idiom. No. 1 is in two, tautly written sections, the first alternating dark fanfares and surging strings underpinned by a biting motif, while the second features an array of percussion in arresting episodes.
No. 2’s subtitle, ‘Strands’, denotes two spirituals artfully embedded in the texture. Fragments of ‘There is a Balm in Gilead’ and ‘Roll, Jordan, Roll’ serve as subtle foils to the richly dramatic ‘proclamatory nature’ of the preceding material.