When you read the titular quote from Yehudi Menuhin about this 1956-born British composer, you don’t really know whether or not to be deterred from listening to the music. These first recordings are then, let us say, exciting and new in their language, thus stimulating and worth being heard. They are not frightening, especially since the tonality does not also make great capers and in this respect the ear is not overstrained. It may also contribute to this that lyricism and accessibility are important to the composer to this day. « What matters to me is that my music touches people. I write for an audience. »

In duration, three-quarters of an hour, and form, four movements, the symphony initially presents a classical image and thus represents a contemporary continuation of this type of form. Written between 2018 and 2021, the strings are given the task of opening the work full of energy. As the first movement progresses, quieter sections can then be heard, but they are punctuated with restlessness that only takes over at the end. The Scherzando that follows is quite typically fast and playful, requiring technical skill. With solo clarinet as well as wide-ranging tasks for the winds and percussion, Adrian Williams proves that he knows how to orchestrate excellently.

The slow movement is a lament. With it, Williams reacts emotionally to the devastating bushfires in Australia. Fear and shock form one side, moments of great thoughtfulness and silence the other. The last movement, which makes up more than a third of the work, opens deeply rumbling by basses, contrabassoon and low brass until the full orchestra joins in energetically. Delicate solos by violin and flute follow until more passionate moments are heard again. Through elements of tension and relief, the music then rises, as it were in keeping with the style, to a dramatic ending.

The chamber concerto Portraits of Ned Kelly for eleven musicians is inspired by the paintings of Sidney Nolan, who painted the Australian outlaw and bushranger Ned Kelly. This brilliant and virtuosic work may sound like a modern day Till Eulenspiegel drugged out of his mind. It’s funny, surreal and somehow also moving.

During his time as composer in association with the English Symphony Orchestra, the symphony was written as part of a series of the orchestra’s 21st century symphonies. The orchestra, under the baton of its leader Kenneth Woods, is at its best in the many rather brief solos and besides that in the ensemble as a whole. Despite the many demands on all participants, no weaknesses show. The ensemble is balanced and disciplined and shows the necessary intensity. The direction by Kenneth Woods results in a clearly structured performance that presents the music with verve. The recording is clear and balanced and very present, but not obtrusive.