Thomas Wilson: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 (CD)

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Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Rory Macdonald

Rory Macdonald conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the premiere recording of three orchestral works by ‘the father of Scottish music’, composer Thomas Wilson (1927-2001).

Wilson was an important figure in Scotland’s musical renaissance, whose exceptional output established him as a composer of particular significance.

Wilson completed five symphonies of which two are recorded here: Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 4 ‘Passeleth Tapestry’, both of which were premiered by the RSNO.

The Third Symphony, a RSNO commission, was described in The Guardian as “one of most impressive works written by a Scottish composer in recent years”.

The Fourth Symphony, written to mark Paisley’s 500th anniversary, features masterly orchestration throughout and Wilson’s treatment of the strings is especially fresh and inventive.

Carillon was commissioned by Glasgow city council in 1990 as part of its European City of Culture celebrations, as the inaugural work to celebrate the opening of the city's new Royal Concert Hall, where the RSNO is now based.

This recording is a fitting tribute to the leading Scottish composer of his generation by an orchestra who inspired and premiered his work.

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Sunday Times

"Wilson’s is a big, eclectic style, and the performances are arresting."

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Thomas Wilson
1. Symphony No. 4 ‘Passeleth Tapestry’
2. Symphony No. 3
3. Carillon

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Symphonic noir from a leading Scottish composer.



Men who create orchestral symphonies are supposed to have names like Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvoƙák, not Tom Wilson, Matt Taylor and Dave Johnson. Yet the last three are not real estate agents but British composers - among the most serious symphonists of recent times. (To be fair, their full names are Matthew Taylor and David Hackbridge Johnson).

Thomas Wilson (1927-2001) won many awards for his work, and was the leading Scottish composer of the generation before James MacMillan. I'd never heard a note of his music, so was intrigued to receive this new release of two single-movement symphonies and an orchestral work: Symphony No. 3 (written in 1979), No. 4, "Passeleth Tapestry" (1988) and Carillon (1990). They are played by the excellent Royal Scottish National Orchestra on the Linn label, which is renowned for its sound quality. This disc does not disappoint in either respect. The sound is rich, full and present, while the orchestral performances under Rory Macdonald are dramatically charged, colourful and assured. (It is worth noting that earlier in his career Macdonald was an assistant to David Zinman, Iván Fischer and Antonio Pappano. It shows.)

In all three works Wilson's music has a cinematic quality. Not only in the expansive orchestration, which includes important lines for piano, but also in his easily recognisable three or four note melodic motifs. These are used throughout each piece as a thematic and harmonic basis for the many changes of mood. Wilson's harmony is tonal but without a clear key centre, which allows him to create tension. In quiet sections, he achieves a feeling of foreboding, sometimes a malevolent playfulness, and each of these pieces builds to a tense climax at some point. If this music did underscore a movie, it would be in black and white with lots of shadows. Wilson's accomplished, evocative writing makes a strong impression on first hearing. 5 STARS