Sherwood
Symphony No.1, Op.3
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op.107
Sinfonietta, Op.101
Masha Dimitrieva (piano)

Bayerisches Landesjugendorchester
Werner Andreas Albert

Recorded in 2000 and 2002 in Mehrzweckhalle, Röhrnbach, Bayerischer Wald
CD No: CPO 777 012-2
Duration: 62 minutes
Reviewed: June 2004
The American composer Gordon Sherwood has quite a story to tell. Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1929, he was destined to be a soldier, to follow his father, but he managed instead to pursue a formal musical training, including studies with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. Aged 26, Sherwood had two movements of his Symphony No.1 premiered by the New York Philharmonic and Dimitri Mitropoulos. Then a sea-change: in 1968 he went to Beirut, pre-civil war, and found himself playing the piano in cinemas and hotels; after this he went to Cairo where he wrote a score for an Egyptian Ministry of Culture film. Israel, Greece and a prolonged stay in Kenya followed … after more travel (including deportation to New York from Oslo via London), Sherwood became a beggar on the streets of Paris. This drew publicity and a film crew.
Of Sherwood’s music here, the pithy, four-movement, 20-minute Symphony was completed in the 1950s. It’s quite a sinewy piece, shadowy, tense, determined, and linear; the punchy gestures and intensity of the first movement fade to nothing. The pastoral second seems lonely and troubled, consolation sought. A dark, deep slow movement follows, with echoes of Bartók (a Sherwood-acknowledged influence, so too Stravinsky), and the finale is rhythmically vital, quite hard-hitting, the piano’s bass cutting through the texture, the brass bullying the procession; there’s a brief allusion to Gershwin. Although Sherwood seems to have fallen away from Hindemith, this composer’s formality is apparent.
Sherwood’s propensity for ostinato pervades the outer movements of the half-hour concerto, begun in the ‘fifties and completed forty years later for the soloist on this recording. Sometimes there’s a relentlessness that puts a gap between music and listener, though there’s no denying Sherwood’s control of the material and its carefully graded development and interplay; also the unpredictability yet convincing tonal journey. The cadenza seems to mix the worlds of Gershwin, Copland and, specifically, from Bartók’s Concerto No.2. Sherwood’s slow movement seems a counterpart to the equivalent movement of the Bartók, although Sherwood’s strings are more eerie, then moonlit, rather than suggestive of Bartók’s other-worldliness.
The booklet gets things wrong with the timings; as I say the concerto is 30 minutes, while the Sinfonietta is the near-12 suggested for the concerto! And the Sinfonietta itself (from the late ‘eighties) is attractively light and angst-free; a gentle sway informs the first movement, there’s a nod to Prokofiev in the second with a rather bittersweet melody, and the finale waltzes happily along, if slightly tinged by nostalgia.
Good stuff then, and equally good performances and sound; those with an enquiring mind shouldn’t be disappointed. Given Sherwood’s century-plus list of opus numbers, one imagines that a second CD shouldn’t be too difficult to compile.

 

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