Christopher Gunning symphonies well-crafted modernism

Christopher Gunning is one of those composers who is quite comfortable in both the cinema and the concert hall. His TV and movie credits include “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” (a PBS mainstay for decades).

The three symphonies on this release show another side of this composer. Gunning is skilled at creating movie themes and short music cues. And he’s also just as adept at building well-developed (and lengthy) worlds of sound.

Gunning studied with Edmund Rubbra. Rubbra composed by starting with the opening and just seeing where the music led him. Gunning took a similar approach with his 10th and 12th symphonies.

The single-movement 10th symphony grows organically out of the opening motif. Gunning is an effective orchestrator, and his instrumental combinations are as important as his motivic variations.

Gunnison’s 12th Symphony is in two movements. To me, Gunnison seems to be weaving together several different motifs, all with some kind of interrelation. The work struck me as more expansive and perhaps more tonally adventuresome than the 10th.

Symphony No. 2 is technically the earliest work on the album. It was composed in 2003 but withdrawn by Gunnison. He revisited the work 2018, and that’s the version on this recording. The three-movement work struck me as a more formal composition.

The form is clearly delineated, and the motifs develop in a logical fashion. I think it’s a well-crafted work. I think it lacks the spontaneity of the 10th and 12th symphonies, but there are still many passages of great beauty to enjoy.

Kenneth Woods leads the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in some superb performances. Woods has a clear artistic vision of how these symphonies should unfold. The end result is a collection of modern symphonies that are engaging, exciting, and thoroughly satisfying.

Christopher Gunning: Symphonies 2, 10, and 12
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Kenneth Woods, conductor
Signum SIGCD592


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