Whettam

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Whettam
LABELS: Redcliffe
WORKS: Sinfonia intrepida
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: RR 016
Sometime in the late Sixties I heard Graham Whettam fronting a BBC Radio 3 Composer’s (Self-)Portrait, which he used – if I rightly remember his drift – to slag off the Corporation for not broadcasting his music, perhaps with some justice. Now 73, he has remained (unsurprisingly?) on the fringes of British music, yet not entirely without champions and successes. The three-movement Sinfonia intrepida (not so much ‘intrepid’ as ‘undaunted’, if you know your Latin) was cogitated over many years, inspired by the wartime destruction of European cities and the eventual postwar rebirth of their life and culture. Charles Groves commissioned and premiered it with the RLPO in 1977; Mackerras made the 1980 studio broadcast now perpetuated on this CD, and later conducted it in Dresden, not unfittingly, to mark the reopening of the Opera House. It’s a big, bold, dark, deeply serious work, avowedly in the line of Mahler, Shostakovich and Britten: tonally ambiguous, generally slow-moving, full of strident chordal outbursts, gaunt and gawky unisons, six-horn recitatives, virtuoso timpani writing, clangorous gong-strokes. As in other Whettam pieces that I’ve heard, the material is almost perversely unmemorable, yet deployed and developed with such intense sincerity that the Symphony compels a certain respect, even in the end a wary affection. The performance, an excellent one, endows it with maximum conviction; the recording too is very vivid. Calum MacDonald

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