PICKARD: Eden; Gaia Symphony [TrackList follows] – Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag Orchestra/ Andreas Hanson – BIS multichannel SACD BIS-2061, 81:09 (8/12/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
John Pickard (b. 1963) is a talented composer who obtained his PhD in composition from the University of Wales. He currently teaches composition at the University of Bristol. His works are known for their powerful and ambitious instrumentation. He has written four symphonies of which No. 4 is presented on this BIS SACD along with Eden, a work for brass band in one movment. Performing is the Eikang-Bjorsvik Musikklag led by Andreas Hanson. Both works are scored for a standard British concert band.
I have an affinity for concert band music, perhaps stemming from my trumpet playing in my college band and orchestra. I grew to love the brass works of composers like Persichetti, and, like many, fell in love with the classic Mercury recordings of concert band music. So it’s not surprising that Pickard’s music would catch my attention.
Eden is a 15-minute three-section work based on Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s an interesting piece, with a lot of challenging music for the band to deal with. Atonal at times, furious in tempi, it’s not something that melody lovers will be instantly attracted to.
Gaia, a symphony that the composer only reluctantly called a symphony, has four movements that can stand alone but certainly work well as a musical whole. Again, there is speed and atonal music, but by the fourth movement the work becomes more conventionally melodic. The symphony is a tribute to the earth we live on in its many moods and season.
I liked both works, and give especially high marks to the recording, which is realistic and provides a precise stereo image with deep bass and a realistic sheen to the brass. I listened to this disc an the appropriate 5.1 configuration and found the surrounds very subdued. Switching the rear speakers off made only a slight difference to the sonic picture. Even given the reduced sound of the ambiance channels, I would still rate the recording very good, reminding me of the advice of an old friend who did classical recording for a living, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” [You could also turn up the surround-only channels, which is what I find I have to do on many classical SACDs…Ed.]
If you have a place on your musical shelf for contemporary concert band music, then this collection of Pickard’s music will be of value to you. Add a superb, but somewhat subdued recording (in the rear channels) and you have more than 80 minutes of entertainment. [It breaks the supposed 80-minute limit of CDs & SACDs…Ed.]
TrackList:1. Eden (2005) Symphony No.4, ‘Gaia Symphony’ (1991–2003) = 2. I. Tsunami 3. Window 1 (Water – Fire) 4. II. Wildfire 5. Window 2 (Fire – Air) 6. III. Aurora 7. Window 3 (Air – Earth) 8. IV. Men of Stone (I. Avebury – II. Castlerigg – III. Barclodiad y Gawres – IV. Stonehenge)