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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

John Robertson, Symphonies No. 4 & 5, Meditation In Flanders Fields, Brataslava Symphony, Anthony Armore

Of the new in music there can be no end. And so we happily gain exposure to new work and try and open up to it all as we hold on to what we already know and revere at the same time, in other words, as we continue to revel in the past masters. 

I've been listening in this vein to an orchestral program from a composer I do not believe I have heard from until now, one John Robertson. His Symphonies No. 4 & 5 and Meditation in Flanders Field (Navona NV 6325) can be heard in the present recording, quite respectably played by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra under Anthony Armore.

Robertson was born and raised in New Zealand and came to Canada in 1967. He then subsequently studied at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Like Ives before him he has made a career in insurance while composing as time has allowed. His output includes an opera and five symphonies, all of which, the liners inform us, have been recorded by Navona.

The present disk shows us a vibrant and lyrical Romanticism without the heavy baggage of derivation and perhaps in that way akin to Samuel Barber, in other words using the Romantic idiom to forward a personal vision.

Symphony No. 4 (2017) has a very winning way. We immediately take note thematically in the first movement to his effective use of winds, solo clarinet and horns. He straight off shows us a nice sense of orchestration and an ongoing linearity in the theme that keeps us listening. The second movement is Andante with a 6/8 waltz theme for oboe and strings that has mystery and moves on through to further developments that suggest a somewhat bucolic pastoralism and a good bit of magic. The final movement brings to us a bubbly and bright momentum and fittingly ends the work with a sort of folk dance meets orchestrally striking mood, putting the capping touch onto a decidedly good one to hear and have.

"Meditation in Flanders Fields" (2016) features a recitation of John McCrae's poetic thoughts and prayers, if you will, for the fallen soldiers of WWI resting for eternity in their Flanders burial ground. The orchestra heightens the thoughtful and evocative contrasts between nature and history, the human tragedy and the natural of the verse with orchestral depth in quietly, wistfullly singing strings and trumpet-horn call echoes of the martial world now forever gone.

The Symphony No. 5 (2018) continues the proceedings with a furtherance of thematic complexities and gradual unfolding. The endless melodic quality of the opening Allegro reminds us how the composer's inventive resourcefulness sets his music apart and gives us much to hear and rehear with satisfaction and interest. The work continues and brings a unveiling of orchestrational beauty that bears our attention well.

If you do not insist that all new music be devoted to the cutting edge of stylistic futures and welcome a further adventure into and rethinking of Tonal Romanticism this one will give you much to consider and delight in, I suspect. Recommended.

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