Symphony No.1, Op.3
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op.107
Masha Dimitrieva (piano)
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
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
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 Sherwoods music here, the pithy, four-movement, 20-minute Symphony was completed in the 1950s. Its 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 pianos bass cutting through the texture, the brass bullying the procession; theres a brief allusion to Gershwin. Although Sherwood seems to have fallen away from Hindemith, this composers formality is apparent.
Sherwoods 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 theres a relentlessness that puts a gap between music and listener, though theres no denying Sherwoods 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 Bartóks Concerto No.2. Sherwoods slow movement seems a counterpart to the equivalent movement of the Bartók, although Sherwoods strings are more eerie, then moonlit, rather than suggestive of Bartóks 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, theres 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 shouldnt be disappointed. Given Sherwoods century-plus list of opus numbers, one imagines that a second CD shouldnt be too difficult to compile.