Gramophone Magazine

The English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods, conductor ‘21st Century Project’ goes from strength to strength: Philip Sawyers’s Third (10/17; my Critic’s Choice that year), David Matthews’s Ninth (7/19) and Matthew Taylor’s Fifth (5/21); Steve Elcock’s Eighth, next in the series, is in the can but will not be released until late 2023. This newly released fourth album features a symphony every bit as impressive as its series forebears…. At 48 minutes in length in this extremely well-prepared and riveting first recording, Williams’s symphony is a work of considerable expressive heft… After completing the by turns gossamer and ‘rumbustious’ Scherzando, with its coruscating orchestration (but the whole work is superbly scored, for strings, brass and percussion), Williams had started the Energico – Dolente finale when he ‘saw the harrowing images of the wild fires in Australia, so much tragic loss of life, loss of habitat’. The Lento slow movement reflecting this disaster’s ‘emotional impact’ grew from this, containing two substantial static sections – the stillness of devastation. The finale concludes in hope for renewal, but at what cost?

Australian inspiration lies behind the coupling, Williams’s 1998 Chamber Concerto Portraits of Ned Kelly. This has a punchier, sharper edge to it – both harmonically and texturally – than the symphony and is more descriptive, inspired by the paintings of the infamous bushwhacker by Williams’s friend and former neighbour (in Wales), Sidney Nolan. The performances of both modern but attractive works are scintillating, in sound to match.” -Guy Rickards