Frankel's music is lyrical in the manner of Berg rather
than Schoenberg. His violin concerto (also on CPO) is among the finest
works of the century and can easily stand compare with the Berg and
the Schuman works. The film music, of which there are many scores mix
the conventional (in the best traditions of British light music) with
the fibrous and barbed thickets of beloved of horror and sci-fi practitioners.
Frankel marginally softens his pallet for cinema audiences. Interesting
that Elizabeth Lutyens made money from using her avant-garde style for
A glance at the dates of the symphonies shows a tight
clustering around the 1960s with an early outlier in Number 1 and two
symphonies dating from the very early 1970s. Ignoring two discarded
unfinished symphonies written much earlier than 1958 and a little known
Dance Symphony, Number 1 is the composer's recognised
first symphonic statement. By then he was a Brahmsian fifty-two years
of age. Rather like the Fourth Symphony this work starts with a gentle
twelve-tone theme. The world instantly announced by Frankel is close
to the Berg concerto and to Alwyn's tense and astringent Second Symphony.
This is music closer to Roger Sessions than to William Schuman. While
we are on the American ‘theme’, Frankel is also given to Copland-like
dynamism (try the garish middle movement molto ritmico). This
is an impressive first symphony; a work of crystal clarity, micro-gestures
and grand sweep amid sourness, disillusion and sadness - a not uncommon
cocktail in Frankel's case. The recording shows excellent bass extension.
The cheeky, scathing and ironic Fifth Symphony
comes from almost a decade after the First. As the notes (Buxton Orr)
declare, there are small remembrances of the pastoral Mahler and Beethoven.
The grazioso is naggingly familiar. I couldn't place it at first.
In fact it is a matter of language and the language here is uncannily
close to the later (mid-1950s onwards) Havergal Brian - from the Ninth
The Second Symphony is the longest of the eight.
The three movements are prefaced by quotations from Wordsworth. This
is a work of swaying tread: a moving subtle tapestry of small interjections
and pointillist gestures. The second movement ends in remarkable reflection
amid a drizzle of bell strokes and soured sweetness. Bell sounds are
part of the character of this work as much as they are in the symphonies
of Malcolm Arnold however the resonance and frequency is much closer
to Arnold 7 and 9 than to Arnold 2 and 5.
The Third Symphony wastes no time and announces
itself with a 'door knocking' figure that is both Stravinskian (Pulcinella)
and Sibelian. It is a single movement construct of wondrous clarity,
cleanly orchestrated as are all the works here. It rises, via some cataclysmic
gestures, to the slowly turning and blooming glories you find also in
Silvestrov's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. Only in this work was I left
wondering whether the performance was all it might be. Surely it should
be more frantic. The music is in constant and kaleidoscopic motion which
sometimes defeats the sense of line. The mid-air mid-step ending does
not feel like a full resolution and probably this is not intended. I
wondered about comparison with other single movement symphonies but
this work shares little with tonal works such as Harris 7, Rubbra 11,
Sibelius 7 or Brian 22. Of all such works Alwyn's Fifth is the closest
in feel but while that work ends in totally convincing resolution the
Frankel is more evasive and ambiguous.
In the Fourth Symphony, which is the one I would
play to any Doubting Thomases, Frankel created one of the supreme triumphs
of the dodecaphonic literature. At the start watery notes lap and whisper
like an irregularly-pulsed liquid heartbeat and similar material appears
in the second movement. This gentle smiling coup of the imagination
is comparable with the breath-stilling opening of the Berg Violin Concerto
- a world created in evocation within two bars. The strings (centre-stage
in this work) sing a searing song. There are passages that remind you
of another film composer-symphonist, Malcolm Arnold. In the first movement's
conflict-ridden moments Arnold's Sixth comes to mind - perhaps with
a touch of Tippett. I am sure that this symphony (and the Seventh) will
hold your attention and encourage you to persist.
The Sixth Symphony is at the most immediate
level drier. It gives up its messages more stubbornly. In the finale
however a curvaceous and elegiac 12-tone melody bends and undulates
through a desolate terrain of protest and negation. In the first movement
the anger of the music is of the sort you may recall from Vaughan Williams'
Sixth or the vituperative violence of Panufnik's symphonies - especially
the middle movement of the Elegiaca. None of these symphonies
end in outright triumph. It is as if the composer has seen and known
too much for that sort of victory to be an option.
The Eighth, might almost be a 'concerto for
orchestra'. There is some well calculated and very beautiful music for
the tuba pp against strings in the first movement (track 7 8.15).
Havergal Brian's stuttering termagant marches are also suggested and,
in the final movement, (6.20) William Alwyn's funereal spirit, most
evident in the Hydriotaphia symphony, is there for all to hear.
Still this is not easily assimilable music. Be warned - you will need
to persist. This warning is far less relevant in the case of the Seventh.
Frankel seems, for this work, to weave a poem for silvery violins, for
romantic horn solos (Dennis Brain would have made great play with the
solo in the first movement), with seemingly endless lyrical lines, of
a Bergian caste, with the singing of malcontented souls and with the
fife and drum satire of Arnold's Eighth Symphony. Frankel was to have
written a Ninth for the BBC Proms but this never came to anything.
Now to the smaller concert works. The Overture
to a Ceremony, might from its title, be expected to latch onto
the romping heroics of works like the concert overtures of Chagrin,
Leigh, Reizenstein and Ferguson. In fact Frankel does little to soften
the serial blow. The music is portentous, projects the usual long-limbed
Bergian lyricism, and in its fractured dramatics, recalls Nielsen 4
and 5. From 15 years earlier comes the Shakespeare Overture which
is marginally more relaxed - demonstrating a filial relationship with
Walton's Olivier films. With this I noticed, at 5.29, a long march pointing
back towards Frank Bridge's masterwork Enter Spring. All ends
care-freed at 9.30.
The Mephistopheles work is phantasmagoric.
This is like Arnold's Tam O'Shanter gone to the deliriously dissonant
dogs. The Mayday Overture is a work of cleanly blown crystal
fanfares, militaristic, bustling, not carefree, even the final triumph
glares and whinnies. The dedicatee is the conductor Hugo Rignold. Rignold
was a little regarded conductor who was especially active in Birmingham.
In fact his Lyrita recordings (not yet liberated from vinyl purgatory)
of the Bliss John Blow Meditation is every bit as good as the
highly-prized Handley version and even better recorded. His Music
for Strings rivals the famous EMI Boult recording.
It is interesting to compare Frankel’s five string
quartets (often somewhat evocative of Tippett’s ecstatic delivery).
These cluster around the 1940s with bookend excursions into the flanking
decades. They are lyrical and generally welcoming with some superbly
sustained contemplative lentos and bustling fruitful energy.
CPO have recorded the quartets (neatly contained on another CPO set
999 420-2). Frankel’s works achieved as much neglect as William Alwyn's
(another British film music composer whose true metier lay in the symphony);
the difference being that Alwyn used his film music money to fund recordings.
The picture for Frankel in the late 1960s and early 1970s might have
been transformed had it been possible for royalty income to have been
directed into a sequence of Lyrita LPs.
The last disc in the set is fully populated with music
- playing for over seventy minutes. The others are logically arranged
though less generous in playing time. The final disc also has the strength
of including two overtures and two symphonies. Of the two symphonies
the Seventh stands with the steely Fourth as Frankel's most sturdily
This is all extremely thoroughly documented. We must
now hope that CPO and the BBC will strike an agreement for the issue
of the 1980s broadcast of Frankel’s and John Whiting’s opera Marching
Song. The opera was left in short score at the composer’s death.
The orchestration is by the Frankel pupil, the late Buxton Orr who wrote
the set’s background notes for each work. The excellent and detailed
biographical notes are by Dimitri Kennaway. They are repeated across
each disc in the set.
If you have not collected these symphonies along the
way then here is your chance to acquire the lot at an attractive price.
The symphonies stand in direct line with those of Hartmann and Vermeulen
- different but just as rebellious; just as given to melody, distilled
by serial technique, malleably emotional, lambently orchestrated, concise
and, at their most masterful, flooded with light.
The discs in this set can also be purchased separately at full price:-
240-2 (Symphonies 1 and 5)
241-2 (Symphonies 2 and 3)
242-2 (Symphonies 4 and 6)
243-2 (Symphonies 7 and 8)
See also bargain box of the complete