John Robertson Symphonies Underserved by Performances

John Robertson is a mostly self-taught composer who has really come into his own in recent years. This is the fourth release of his music from Navona. To me, it’s something of a mixed bag.

The major works included here are his last two symphonies. Symphony No. 4 was written in 2017, and Symphony No. 5 a year later. Robertson has steadily grown as a composer. These works are far more complex than his first two symphonies. He also seems more adept at working with his material.

Robertson sets up easily identifiable motifs but then uses them in unusual ways. The fifth symphony had the most adventurous harmonies (for Robertson). The stacked dissonances gave power and energy to the music.

Robertson is very much a tonal composer, although one with his own individual voice.

I liked the music, but I felt the performances didn’t do it justice. The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, to me, had a flat sound throughout the album. Not flat intonation, but just sort of a flattened dynamic range. I can’t say what the problem was — I’ve heard better performances from this orchestra.

Perhaps more rehearsals would have helped? Or maybe a different placement of the mics? I can’t say for sure, but the overall effect was a somewhat anemic presentation.

I am still interested in exploring John Robertson’s music. Just a little disappointed with the overall effect of this release.

John Robertson: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5
Meditation: In Flanders Fields
Bratislava Symphony Orchestra; Anthony Armorë, conductor
Navona Records NV 6325

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