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
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2004
CD No: CPO 777 012-2
Duration: 62 minutes
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.