Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra
Verity Gunning (oboe)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 4-6 March 2008 at Air Lyndhurst Studios, London
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN10525 Duration: 67 minutes Reviewed: May 2009
Christopher Gunning [Symphonies 3 & 4 ... Oboe Concerto]
Reviewed by Peter Joelson
Christopher Gunning (born in 1944) has written a wide range of music, from hugely successful and very well-known scores for television, such as that for “Poirot”, and for cinema, “Firelight” and “When the Whales Came”. He has been nominated for and won BAFTA and Ivor Novello awards. He is also successful for his work as an orchestrator and arranger, producing work for John Williams, Shirley Bassey and Mel Tormé.
Gunning’s music for the concert hall includes four symphonies (with a fifth on the way), several concertos and numerous diverting works. Vernon Handley recorded Yorkshire Glory, surely ripe for reissue. This Chandos release (in May 2009), of premiere recordings, marks the first in a series of recordings of Gunning’s music.
A pupil at the Guildhall School of Music, Gunning’s tutors included Edmund Rubbra and Richard Rodney Bennett, the latter encouraging him in his early career as a film-music composer. The works on this disc showcase recent compositions.
The Third Symphony (2005) was born in very difficult circumstances – the composer and his wife had suffered serious illnesses, he in the UK, she in Kiev. The inspiration for the Third came as a result of his doctor encouraging him to go walking; this he did in the Brecon Beacons, where Pen y Fan in particular showed the two faces of hospitality and danger. The dissonant opening provides the germ for the whole of this single-movement work, its colours changing as does the weather of this landscape. The first section contains bubbling woodwind, and there follows misty sounds from the strings; the piece ends stormily. While the composer uses some atonal methods, he also strives to make the work accessible; although the music is anxious, rugged and battling, the composer succeeds in conveying his ideas clearly.
The Fourth Symphony was written two years later, when the earlier difficulties had been overcome, and this is also in a single movement. “Triumph over adversity” is the prevailing mood of the piece, this time more tonal than. Again, the single-movement work is in five sections, with varying effects, the fanfares being particularly successful.
On this disc Gunning’s Oboe Concerto is placed between the two symphonies and was written just before the Third as a Christmas gift for his daughter, Verity. And what a gift it is! The work mirrors Verity’s personality, “youthful but thoughtful, and sometimes quirky”. The slow movement was written in a single day, Gunning’s reaction to the death of Yasser Arafat and the long-unsolved problems in the Middle East. Verity Gunning is a very fine oboist and her performance is stunning in the virtuoso parts and very beautiful in the lyrical passages. This is beguiling music.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays very well indeed for the composer, and has been superbly recorded in Air Lyndhurst Studios, formerly a church designed by the Victorian architect, Alfred Waterhouse, who also drew up the plans for the Natural History Museum, the Prudential Assurance offices in High Holborn and a number of British town-halls.
The booklet contains an excellent essay by the composer, and evocative photographs of the Beacons. This release offers very rewarding listening and I look forward very much to others in this Gunning series.