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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Symphony No. 4 (1959) [32:13]
Sinfonietta for Strings (1970) [22:51]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 2-4 Aug 2004, 4 Jan 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557649 [55:04]
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Alwyn Web-Site

Three cycles of Alwyn’s five symphonies are currently in the lists: Lyrita, Chandos, Naxos. The Lyrita will take a bit of effort - a special order from Harold Moores in London. It is remarkable but very welcome that there should be such a choice! You can get the Chandos in a single box (symphonies 1-5 plus the Sinfonietta) or rather untidily across five individual discs coupled with concertos and other works.

The Lyrita is at full price with all five symphonies spread efficiently across two discs coupled 2, 3, 5: SRCD228 review and 1, 4: SRCD227 review. There are Lyrita review and Chandos recordings of Lyra Angelica but not coupled with the symphonies.

Alwyn's Fourth Symphony has a weightiness of expression that is completely consonant with the symphony concept; nothing if not serious and imposing. It is variously Holstian (3.33) and barbarically splendid (4.00; 6.00; 6.07). If you are a sucker for gloriously roaring brass writing then just wait until you hear 8.17 in this movement and 2.02 in the next. The second movement tumbles with the sort of thunderous energy that electrifies Beethoven 7. Peeling discords rattle the windows and shake the rafters. Parts of this writing suggest a rowdy concert overture: Petrushka, or Beckus or some other jackanapes. It is not perhaps as tautly executed as the composer’s own version on Lyrita but there’s little in it. After all this dynamism the third movement suggests a tender post-coital repletion. Once again Alwyn leans on his sighing Pre-Raphaelite inclinations which evolve into a long-lined romantic theme (half cousin to Herrmann’s Marnie). This is brutally shaken off for the return of those pealing discords. The music then surges upwards to Hollywood splendour cross-cut with Janáček-like figures.

By comparison the short Sinfonietta for Strings is slightly on the dry side. It is not a big romantic statement but has a Bartókian propulsion and visceral impact. Other works paralleled are the string Sinfoniettas by Waxman and Herrmann ... at least in the Alwyn’s outer movements. The middle movement swoons somewhat but is in a style closer to Bridge’s There is a Willow. It includes a lovely violin solo which suggests a Berg-like glimmering half-light. Towards the end of the movement the romance is piled high recalling the Adagietto of Mahler 5.

Shorter playing time than the Naxos disc of symphonies 1 and 3. There was space for some concert overtures or shorter works. Nevertheless this is a rewarding disc and at bargain price is attractive. Spirited and well-recorded performances that will win new friends for Alwyn. I would however recommend that they start with the Fifth Symphony and Lyra Angelica.

Rob Barnett



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