Rondo in A minor K. 511

Mozart arr. SwayneGZ014
Trumpet and Piano | Duration: 10 minutes

This arrangement of the 1787 piano Rondo highlights its affinities with Don Giovanni (written the same year) and the increasingly dark quality of Mozart’s late style. First performed by Alison Balsom (Tpt) and Iain Farrington (Piano) at Harewood House, near Leeds, on 28th November 2003.

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Sangre viva

Giles SwayneGZ015
Trumpet and Piano | Duration: 15 minutes

Commissioned by the Earl and Countess of Harewood and first performed by Alison Balsom (Tpt) and Iain Farrington (Piano) at Harewood House, near Leeds, on 28th November 2003. London premiere at the Wigmore Hall on 9th December, 2003. A virtuoso concert–piece for both instruments, this important addition to the repertoire stems from a phrase used by Lorca about the nature of performance. It is in two movements: a jazzy blues, and a dreamy finale subtitled Sueño (Dream).

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Leonardo’s dream

Giles SwayneGZ092
Alto saxophone and piano | Duration: 8½ mins

A set of variations on a theme by Leonardo da Vinci, who as a young man in 1480s Florence was a popular singer and also played the lira da braccio (a posh version of the folk fiddle). This scrap of love–song is written in one of his notebooks. The words (encoded as musical notes) are “Amore la sola mi fa remirare, la sola mi fa sollecita”. [she alone makes me dream of love, she alone makes excites me]. This piece was commissioned by Hannah Marcinowicz with funds provided by the RVW Trust and the Britten–Pears Foundation, and was first performed by Hannah Marcinowicz and Giles Swayne on 8th January 2008 in a Park Lane Group Young Artists concert at the Purcell Room, London.


Park Lane Group Young Artists,
Purcell Room, London,Tuesday 8th January 2008

“This was a memorable first performance of Leonardo’s Dream. Swayne has composed seven aptly enigmatic and airborne variations on a theme discovered in one of Leonardo’s 1486 notebooks: a sweet melody in mirror–writing, a little puzzle of pictures, words and notation. He responds to it with jazzy nonchalance, with trillings, leaps and bumps shared between saxophone and piano, and always with a witty investigation of the quintessence of the melody and the essence of each instrument.”
Hilary Finch, The Times 10th January 2008
“Hannah Marcinowicz . . . also played the premiere of Giles Swayne’s Leonardo’s Dream – variations on a theme by Leonardo da Vinci . . . a pithy work that included a visit to a nightclub – cued with real swing – and notable for giving an abundance of colour and expression to the sax. Leonardo’s Dream should be a mandatory choice next time a saxophonist is invited to play in a PLG concert.”
Colin Anderson, Classical Source 9th January 2008

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Dark scenes of winter

John BloodGZ026
Bass Oboe or Tenor Saxophone and Piano | Duration: 15 minutes

A large four–movement sonata, commissioned in 1981 by Richard Smith, then principal oboist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. A slow, enigmatic first movement is followed by a mechanistic scherzo, a lyrical adagio, and a fast finale which builds to an intense climax. It was first performed by Richard Smith (bass oboe) and John Lindsay (piano) at a British Music Society concert in Chelsea College on 22nd April 1982. This edition includes an alternative part for Tenor Saxophone.


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Stations of the Cross, Book II

Giles SwayneGZ045
Organ | Duration: 26 minutes

This sequence of 14 pieces (in two books) was premiered by David Titterington at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, on 18th November 2006, and has since been performed by other acclaimed organists, including Kevin Bowyer & Simon Nieminski.

  • The women of Jerusalem
  • The third fall
  • Jesus is stripped of his clothes
  • Jesus is nailed to the Cross
  • Jesus dies on the Cross
  • Jesus’ body is laid in his mother’s arms
  • Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb

Marc Rochester’s review in The Gramophone of Simon Nieminski’s recording

For many organists the name of Giles Swayne became associated with their instrument with his Riff-Raff of 1983, which set out to bridge what the composer described as the ‘gulf between classical music and its popular roots’. The massive Stations of the Cross, composed a little over 20 years later, is a very different cup of tea, making no concessions in either its scope or its musical language to anything in a recognisably ‘popular’ vein. The scope of the work is dark, dramatic and emotionally intense and the musical language uncompromisingly dissonant.

From the dark, deep rumblings of the opening station (‘Jesus is sentenced to death’), through the almost inaudible agony of ‘The third fall’ and the vicious, swiping clusters of ‘Jesus is stripped of his clothes’, to the palpitations and desolation of the final station (‘Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb’), Swayne’s visionary writing is imbued with a level of powerful dramatic imagery that requires a highly resourceful organ and a particularly inspiring player to bring it off to its full effect.

It gets both here. The 2007 Matthew Copley organ of St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh speaks in a disarmingly direct way with a sharp clarity that can seem uncomfortably harsh but certainly captures the work’s ‘immediacy and humanity’, which Nigel Simeone refers to in his extensive booklet essay. For his part, Simon Niemiński champions this vast score with a compelling intensity that captures the visionary scope of Swayne’s writing magnificently. This is neither a work nor a performance for the faint-hearted; but for those willing to give themselves up to this strangely powerful music, there is much to savour.

CD available from Resonus Classics: RES 10118


The piece itself is highly organised. Each movement is based around a key-note and these rise by a semitone between movements, giving the work some sort of harmonic progress but also mirroring Christ’s own journey. Within the movements Swayne has used a pair of eight-note modes, the first in the introduction and the second in the main body of the piece. The result could be rather dry, but certainly isn’t. You do not need to know about his construction methods, but they give the work as sense of harmonic stability whilst allowing dynamic flow and change.

Swayne’s music is tonal only in the loosest possible sense of the word, but his construction techniques ensure that the harmonic movement is always away from a base, you feel that the music is coming from somewhere and going to somewhere; this is important. Stations of the Cross is a long work, some 60 minutes, far too long to be anchored in some sort of a-tonal stasis.

Within each movement there is a strong sense of drama, though the result is not quite as theatrical as I expected. To describe the music as contemplative is wrong, but it is certainly thoughtful and rather austere, despite the wide tonal range and virtuoso feel. Swayne was clearly influenced both by the meditative nature of the Roman Catholic Station of the Cross, but also the highly dramatic and passionate sense of the crucifixion story itself.

The work is further organised into two books, two groups of seven pieces. The second group concludes with Jesus Body is Laid in the Tomb, a full scale prelude and fugue which takes Bach and extends his structures into the 21st century, a three-part trio sonata prelude leads to a five-part fugue which concludes this amazing piece.

Robert Hugill

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