Rawsthorne: Symphony No 1 - 3 / Lloyd-jones, Et Al

Regular price $19.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.
The liner notes of this release compare Alan Rawsthorne (1905–1971) to Brahms in that both composers left their first symphonies until relatively late in life. This implies that Rawsthorne was a meticulous craftsman, which is true, but also that he was awed as Brahms was by the idea of creating a post-Beethoven symphony, for which there is little evidence. In Rawsthorne’s case, a First Symphony was delayed until the composer was 45 because he came late to his trade. He was initially drawn to dentistry, and then to architecture. Rawsthorne was 20 when he entered the Manchester College of Music, and the fact that he afterwards continued his piano studies abroad with the great Egon Petri points to possible attempts at a pedagogic career, or on the concert stage. He returned to Britain in 1932, and moved to London at the age of 30—finally, with the intention of devoting himself to composition.

Rawsthorne’s Symphony No. 1 received its premiere in 1950 after a succession of orchestral works of merit: the Symphonic Studies (1938), the Piano Concerto No. 1 (1942), the Violin Concerto No. 1 (1948), and the Concerto for String Orchestra (1949). The work was hailed in print as “a major event in English musical life,” but had to wait 25 years for its first recording. It is a dense, knotty effort of great seriousness, typical of this composer in its avoidance of flamboyant rhetoric. His Symphony No. 2, subtitled “A Pastoral Symphony,” appeared in 1959: a work of greater transparency and less harmonic ambiguity than the First, with an especially beautiful slow movement and a Puckishly witty scherzo that brings Roussel to mind. The Third Symphony of 1964 is as grim, complex, and harmonically acerbic as the First, but within a less emotionally ambivalent setting, and one that employs more of the tension-release pattern of traditional symphonic development.

Rawsthorne’s style is out of Hindemith, pursuing polytonal pathways through the use of motto themes often presented in different keys, simultaneously. This gives him considerable flexibility of harmonic movement, though the unfluctuating textural intensity of the First Symphony creates an air of stasis. The lighter, more malleable Second is an exceedingly attractive piece, however, while the Third Symphony can be viewed as the First reconsidered from a higher, more experienced vantage point. Through all three works runs a sense of granitic integrity and consummate craft. Rawsthorne can certainly produce an ear-bending tune. His Second Symphony has several memorable ones. But he never relies upon a good melody to carry the weight of his musical argument, and he’s almost certain to put that melody to good contrapuntal use before he’s finished with it.

All three works were last recorded in the late 1970s and released on LP in excellent sound. Those analog performances (with the London Philharmonic in the first two symphonies and the BBC SO, led by Pritchard, Braithwaite, and Del Mar, respectively) were in turn gathered onto Lyrita SRCD291, a recording that may still be found with some foreign distributors. They are attractive readings, with Braithwaite’s Second arguably the best: a finely lyrical performance from an underrated conductor. Yet, all three readings are surpassed by David Lloyd-Jones on this new release. He emphasizes lucid textures and a proper balance of Rawsthorne’s multiple lines. This strengthens the angularity and unsettled quality in the music, giving even the congested First a sense of direction and purpose. The clarity of the digital engineering helps greatly, and the playing of the Bournemouth Symphony is first-rate. This is definitely the album to buy, with a respectful tip of the hat to Naxos for adding it to a fine series on a neglected modern master.

Barry Brenesal, FANFARE

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 22, 2005

  • Catalog Number: 8557480

  • UPC: 747313248025

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Alan Rawsthorne

  • Conductor: David Lloyd-Jones

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Charlotte Ellet