Gordon Sherwood: Symphony No. 1; Piano concerto

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

American composer Gordon Sherwood had an auspicious beginning: at only age 26 his music was performed at a broadcast concert by Dmitri Mitropolous and the New York Philharmonic. However, after completing his studies in 1967 Sherwood embarked on world exploration that would last decades (during which he composed sporadically) before he wound up in Paris, completely broke. Here Sherwood spent the next 10 years living as a homeless beggar before a television documentary about his life brought him to the attention of pianist Masha Dimitrieva, who not only commissioned a Piano Concerto from him but also enlisted conductor Werner Andreas Albert in her championing of his music. This CD is the result.

Happily, the music lives up to the astonishing back-story. Symphony No. 1 impresses immediately with its original thematic content, vivid orchestration, and cinematic drama. In this last regard the music occasionally is reminiscent of Walton, but its persistent rhythmic under-girding (especially in the Gershwinesque finale) makes clear Sherwood’s American roots. The Piano Concerto is no less accomplished. Strongly emulating Bartók with its bold, angular themes and highly rhythmic and percussive piano writing, it nonetheless displays Sherwood’s own distinctive voice, especially in the cockily waltzing Rondo finale. Dimitrieva tackles the demanding piano part with discernible enthusiasm and conviction as well as impeccable musicianship.

The light and tuneful Sinfonietta is so drastically different in style and mood that it hardly seems by the same composer. Here Sherwood’s melodic gifts come to the fore as the music conjures enchanting modal worlds drawn from Sherwood’s broad exposure to various musical cultures. It’s clear from Albert’s consistently compelling conducting in all three works that he shares in Dimitrieva’s passionate advocacy of Sherwood’s music, while the Bavarian State Youth Orchestra plays with a confidence and brilliance that belies its title. CPO’s minimalist, wide-ranging recording effectively recreates the large, reverberant acoustic.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

GORDON SHERWOOD - Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto; Sinfonietta

  • CPO - 777 012-2
  • CD

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