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CD Review

Christopher Gunning

première Recordings

  • Symphony #3
  • Concerto for Oboe & String Orchestra
  • Symphony #4
Verity Gunning, oboe
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Gunning
Chandos CHAN10525
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Executive Summary: Dutilleux redux

According to the program notes, Christopher Gunning (b.1944) is a pupil of Edmund Rubbra and Richard Rodney Bennett. Gunning has composed music for the concert hall as well as scores for film and television. The music on this recording appears to be mostly tonal with occasional suggestions of pantonality. In general the music is easy on the ear and, at times, quite attractive.

The Third Symphony dates from 2005. There is a fine line between plagiarism and imitation. I am not sure what side of the line to place this work. Had he titled his work, "Homage to Dutilleux" I might be a bit more understanding of his lifting of not only the gestures, but, what sounds like, complete sections, from Dutilleux's Métaboles. From the opening measures we are in the world of the music of Dutilleux. Much of the third movement of Gunning's work both quotes and paraphrases the finale of the Dutilleux opus. The finale of the Gunning begins with a fleeting reference to the gamelan, a motive which permeates the movement. Yet, towards the end, we are back to the music of Dutilleux. Removing Dutilleux's music from the score leaves us with very little of substance. Gunning's music seems to ramble from gesture to gesture without ever dwelling on much original thematic material.

The Oboe Concerto is the most attractive work on the disc. Not particularly derivative, it is tuneful, with little to challenge a listener. It has little of the trappings of a concerto. Unlike a concerto, the solo part is not particularly demanding. Perhaps a better title would have been Three Idylls for Oboe and Strings. While the harmonies are attractive, the thematic material is inoffensive without being engaging or particularly memorable. The line keeps turning back on itself. Motives are overworked without spinning a musical argument. One keeps waiting for something to happen. Verity Gunning's playing displays a fine sense of control, yet there is little to challenge anyone's technique.

While the Fourth Symphony features some engaging ideas and is more convincing in its musical argument, it is more gesture than content. Motives are repeated without much development. Transitions sound contrived as opposed to being derived from the thematic material. The music rambles. Along the way we do find some pleasant moments but they do not seem to be connected to any organic whole. Once again the music of Dutilleux makes it presence known. However, in this work, the references are much more subtle and appear in the form of gestures as opposed to extended quotes. I also found an occasional reference to the music of Gunning's teacher, Richard Rodney Bennett.

With the composer conducting, one must assume that the performances are authoritative. The recorded sound is in keeping with the fine quality one expects from Chandos.

Copyright © 2009, Karl Miller