Philip Sawyers- Symphony no. 3, Songs of Loss and Regret, Fanfare





Philip Sawyers (b. 1951)

Symphony no. 3

–English Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Woods- conductor

Songs of Loss and Regret

— April Fredrick- soprano
— English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods- conductor


–ESO Brass, Kenneth Woods- conductor

“The importance of Woods’s initiative is greatly significant, and to judge by Philip Sawyers’s Third Symphony the plan has got off to an excellent start….Sawyers is a natural symphonist… This Symphony, like the song- cycle, is a masterpiece” Robert Matthew-Walker- ClassicalSource.

“The cycle is 24 minutes long, and profoundly moving, especially in these beautifully sung performances by April Frederick… “Futility,” set to a text by Wilfred Owen that Britten used in the War Requiem, is stunning in its impact. This cycle should develop a life in the concert hall…It seems to be a symphony about struggle, with tension running very high in a dramatic first movement followed by an intensely personal Adagio that is the centerpiece (and the longest movement). After its Mahlerian opening, this slow movement seems to move in the direction of resistance to the turbulence of today’s world…The performance, as one would expect from the conductor to whom it is dedicated, is impassioned and very well played and recorded.” Henry Fogel, Fanfare

“Terrific music like this renews my faith in the symphony as a genre… a feeling of reconciliation worthy of the Mahler 10th.” Don O’Connor – American Record Guide

“The symphony is a gritty, often powerful work yet, though composed in ‘twelve-tone pyrotechnics’, those who find post-Schoenberg musical language indigestible should not have too much trouble with that or the very moving Songs of Loss and Regret. The heart of the symphony is an adagio movement which simultaneously conveys despair and consolation. The songs include music worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Britten’s War Requiem, with which its shares a setting of Wilfred Owen’s Futility, and the opening Shropshire Lad setting (Into my heart an air that kills) is in no way overshadowed by more famous Housman settings – Butterworth, Gurney, VW, etc…Very fine performances, excellently recorded” Brian Wilson – MusicWeb International

“What future for the symphony in the 21st century? Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra are on a mission to find out, with this concert the first in a project of commissions and premières. On the strength of this showing, the première of Philip Sawyers’ Third Symphony, the future looks bright indeed. The work is a substantial and distinctive contribution to the genre, and it was here presented in a compelling reading, impressively disciplined and with a passionate intensity maintained across its 40-minute span.” Gavin Dixon- Bachtrack. 

“….Sawyers’ Third Symphony is a tremendously impressive accomplishment. If the subsequent commissions by ‘The 21st C. Symphony Project’ turn out to be only half as good, it will still be a cause for celebration. The ESO gave this opening instalment what was obviously a zinger of a performance, Woods’ detailed direction embracing both its ambitious scale and complexity of detail; the composer, certainly, seemed dizzy with pleasure when he took his bow, and we civilians in the audience knew we had heard something special…” Martin Anderson- Musical Opinion

“Philip Sawyers’s Third Symphony (2015) is undoubtedly one of the finest British symphonies of recent years. It was premiered for this recording in February this year and repeated at a memorable concert at St John’s Smith Square, a few days later, as part of the English Symphony Orchestra’s 21st-Century Symphonies programme. The design is relatively conventional, four movements with scherzo placed third (as in No 1; 2/11), unlike the compelling single-span Second (10/14). The long, visionary Adagio is its emotional heart, music of searing intensity, yet the expressive fulcrum lies rather in the Arnold-like Intermezzo, full of disarming charm and gentle humour, adjusting the context of the whole. The impact is overwhelming, on a par with Pickard’s Fifth (BIS, A/17) or David Matthews’s Seventh (Dutton, 6/14) – Matthews’s Ninth is next on the ESO’s list. The performance is terrific, and terrifically committed, superbly marshalled by Kenneth Woods.” Guy Rickards- Gramophone

“I have no reservations in pronouncing this a very fine work indeed and one which deserves a place in the any orchestra’s repertoire.” Gary Higginson- MusicWeb

“Sawyers can handle the resources of a modern – or smaller – symphony orchestra to brilliant effect…this is an impressively expressive piece of sustained writing with more lyrical interludes balancing the power of the massed instrumental passages.” Nick Barnard- MusicWeb

“Philip Sawyers’s Third Symphony is a major new work from a distinctive voice in British music… The Third Symphony was an English Symphony Orchestra commission, and Kenneth Woods, conductor encouraged Sawyers to expand his orchestral palette, from the Mozart-sized orchestra of the Second Symphony, to a larger ensemble. Sawyers has risen to the challenge, producing a 40-minute work on an impressively grand scale, with the large brass and woodwind sections well-integrated into the music’s conception.” Gavin Dixon- Classical CD Reviews

“Profundity in any art can drain you, leave you with a feeling of cathartic emptiness, and Songs of Loss and Regret left me with just that sense that I had experienced a major statement about the human condition. If it’s not a masterpiece (a word one must deploy with caution), it is at least one of the best things of its kind in a very long time….” Martin Anderson- Musical Opinion

“Sawyers’s song-cycle is a masterpiece: I have no hesitation in claiming that on just the one hearing. The lack-of-variety implication that the overall title may suggest is disabused by two things: the quality of the settings, threaded by a unifying motif which appears in various forms, and the consequential sense of symphonic structure in the growing mood of loss, from numbing shock to anger at what has been lost, the emotion no longer constant.” Robert Matthew-Walker- Classical Source


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