Jones: Symphonies No 4, 7, 8 / Groves, Thomson, Et Al
JONES Symphonies: No. 4, “In memory of Dylan Thomas” ; No. 7; No. 8 1 • Charles Groves, cond; Bryden Thomson, cond; 1 Royal PO; BBC Welsh SO 1 • LYRITA 329 (78:05)
Welsh composer Daniel Jones (1912–1993) was born in Pembroke and raised in Swansea, where he forged a friendship with the poet Dylan Thomas. After study in Swansea, Jones moved to London’s Royal Academy of Music. His output included concertos for violin, oboe, and cello; choral music, including the Oratorio, St. Peter ; an opera, The Knife ; chamber music; and 13 symphonies. Jones’s musical language is essentially tonal. He originated a rhythmic method for heightened expression—a device that he called “complex meters” involving maintaining and often juxtaposing, complex and often-irregular time signatures over a long timespan. Musically, Jones was influenced by Purcell, Haydn, and Janá?ek, but his language is personal. His symphonies can be broadly divided into three groups: Symphonies Nos. 1–5 (1944–58), conceived within the late-Romantic symphonic tradition and scored for large forces; Symphonies Nos. 6–9 (1964–72) moving towards greater structural experimentation, unusual combinations of instruments, and shorter lengths; and Symphonies Nos. 10–13 (1976–92) concerned with concision and paring down germ ideas to the barest essentials.
Daniel Jones’s Fourth Symphony, considered to be one of the composer’s finest achievements, was composed in memory of the poet Dylan Thomas, who had died, tragically young, in New York on November 17, 1953. Their relationship had been close; they had shared a zest for life. It was Jones who had written the folk-like music for Under Milk Wood. The Symphony is, understandably, elegiac; the opening Maestoso movement speaks bleakly of tragedy and loss, with a sometimes funeral-march tread, but also of defiance. The central Allegro capriccioso scampers along; it is light-hearted and capricious. Its playfulness might suggest the larger-than-life characters from Under Milk Wood , and perhaps the real-life antics of composer and poet, while its slower, sadder, middle section is more reflective, sometimes darkly so; it has a vulnerability, a sadness—and regret? The final Adagio-moderato-adagio is turbulent and disturbing; the music’s violence seemingly released reluctantly in a brief coda that highlights a solo violin with pizzicato cellos and basses.
The Seventh Symphony is cast in five movements, although the fourth and fifth share the same track. Completed in 1972 and dedicated to Sir Charles Groves, it was written as a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The work has an unsettling ambiguity, the music often lurking in dark corners and having many abrupt contradictions. The most immediately appealing material is in the quicksilver Scherzando that employs a xylophone to heighten its puckish, tipsy fun, but even here tragedy stalks. The Eighth Symphony has five movements too. The music is enigmatic and ferocious, lyrical and searching, and not without a sardonic wit. Its extraordinary, arresting opening chords are sounded on marimba. Imaginative orchestrations abound: the often-spectral third movement has some amazing interchanges between piano and vibraphone; the elegiac fourth movement includes harmonic passages for kettledrums under heartfelt music for strings, muted trumpets, and softly played trombones; and the high-spirited finale sounds triumphant trumpets and tubular bells.
Strong performances of some quite original music. A rewarding disc for the adventurous.
FANFARE: Ian Lace
Catalog Number: SRCD329
Composer: Daniel Jones
Conductor: Bryden Thomson, Sir Charles Groves
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Welsh Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra