John Sykes CD

cover photo

The John Sykes Project has joined forces with Albion Records (part of  the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society) to make a recording of some of John Sykes' music. The CD is called 'Fearful Symmetry' and was released on 3rd April, 2020.

The music consists of 24 songs and four piano pieces which were chosen as representing some of Sykes' best work. Twenty two of the songs are settings from William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Many will remember one of these (Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright - which provided the disc's title) from singing it in Sykes' male voice choir version. Two of the songs are settings of words by his friend Randall Swingler from a group called Homage to Dowland. Swingler was a left wing writer and poet who was subject to close MI5 surveillance - it is not often that one can refer to MI5 when writing about a classical music recording! One of the piano pieces is the popular Polonaise for two pianos called Assyrian Festive Dance because Sykes used it as incidental music to a school production of Jonah and the Whale by James Bridie. It was great fun at the recording session listening to the two pianists who so obviously enjoyed playing it. Another piece of incidental music which many will remember is the Paean composed for Terence Rattigan's play about Alexander the Great, Adventure Story. The most substantial piano piece is his Toccata written during the time he was studying with Vaughan Williams and the disc ends with The Keel Row, a Diversion for Piano - an irrepressibly cheeky piece with hints of Percy Grainger.

The music was recorded over three September days in the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge - chosen largely because it could provide two Steinway pianos needed for the Polonaise. (You may be surprised to learn that the pianos were tuned twice each day - this shows the level of care that Albion provided.) The Blake songs from Innocence were sung by soprano Rowan Pierce and  those from Experience by baritone Gareth Brynmor John, allowing us to contrast the Innocence with the Experience songs. Gareth also sang the two love songs from Swingler's Homage to Dowland.  William Vann was the outstanding pianist accompanying them and also joined Iain Farrington for the Polonaise Duo, while Iain played the other piano solos - brilliantly, as you can hear.

There is a promotional video giving short tasters of the music at and the recording (in either CD or digital download formats) can be purchased online from Albion Records at or, for those not online, by post from Mark Hammett, 27, Landsdowne Way, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, TN40 2UJ - cheques should be made payable to Albion Records. The price is £ 9.99 (which is a bit less than going via Amazon) plus £ 3.00 postage (for any number of discs). I do hope you will support this enterprise and tell your friends about it - it is not easy selling a recording of music by a composer unknown outside Kingswood circles!

The scores for each item, in the same order as on the recording, can be found using the following links:
1. Piping Down the Valleys Wide
2. Hear the Voice of the Bard
3. Earth's Answer
4. The Ecchoing Green
5. The Garden of Love
6. Holy Thursday (Innocence)
7. Holy Thursday (Experience)
8. The Divine Image
9. The Human Abstract
10. The Lamb
11. The Tyger
12. Infant Joy
13. Infant Sorrow
14. The Clod and the Pebble
15. The Blossom
16. A Poison Tree
17. The Sick Rose
18. The Fly
19. On Another's Sorrow
20. The Schoolboy
21. The Shepherd
22. The Voice of the Ancient Bard
23. Polonaise
24. Jean with her Golden Grace
25. My Mistress Played
26. Toccata
27. Paean
28. Keel Row
Bonus track: London

April 2020.

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