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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Symphony No. 1 (1949) [38:29]
Symphony No. 3 (1956) [30:21]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 2-4 Aug 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557648 [68:50]
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After a pause of more than six months Naxos have issued the remaining two discs to complete Alwyn’s mighty handful of symphonies for the first time at bargain price. They enter into competition of sorts with the composer’s own cycle on Lyrita and Hickox’s on Chandos. I say ‘of sorts’ because Hickox is there in a single set (minus the blessed Lyra Angelica) at mid-price. The composer’s own 1970s analogue recordings are still at full price.

The first Naxos-RLPO-David Lloyd-Jones disc (symphonies 2 and 5) was reviewed several times here at:-

The First Symphony always struck me as the most ‘filmic’ of the five. It has a certain heroic-romantic mood and after the last two is my favourite. This Liverpool recording has superb stereo separation and a good natural ambience which nicely complements the yearning wistfulness of the writing. Typical of the cinematic moments - comparable with the sunset and decay in the finale of Arnold 5 and for that matter Bax 5 - is the triumphant sunburst at 8:32. The French horns call out their acclamation to the days end. Quite magnificent! The second movement echoes the con malizia of Walton 1. It is extremely exciting with channel breadth accentuating the skitter and scamper of the music. This is optimistic and exuberant writing the bark and bite of which is extraordinary. The downside is that yearning sigh of this music is sold short; just too hurried at 1.28 onwards. The composer and Hickox allow more air and light. That said there is a lovely silky quality to the heart’s-ease strings at 6.21. This is the movement to play to non-believers.

The third movement is an adagio in which contented bells are pastorally evoked. The mood is comparable to his Autumn Legend. There is even a touching cor anglais song. At 5.23 the left-right ‘stretch’ is wonderful. The finale is rowdily celebratory with allusive echoes from far and wide. At one moment the propulsion recalls the punched out opening of George Lloyd’s symphony No. 6 written at about the same time. Then again the music suggests links with the Easter Fair music from Petrushka. Bax’s Fifth Symphony may also have been in the composer’s mind. Those who cannot hear the vitality of Elgar’s Second Symphony (1:10) in this movement had better listen to the Elgar again. There are some moments, it is true, where the movement sinks into generalised doldrums but David Lloyd-Jones delivers splendid bursts of action: e.g. 9.24 onwards. At the close, after a Beethovenian squall (9.56), there is a telling reference back to the yearning theme from the first movement (10.03).

The Third Symphony was the first to be recorded back in the days of the LP. I found it emotionally opaque then although impressions are a little more favourable now. The music marches in, heavy with threat like a raider cleaving though coastal waters. The music seethes and sighs with tired confidence (5.00); the latter an Alwyn hallmark. The poco adagio portrays a tired and disillusioned mood and rises to a hammering nightmare. The allegro con fuoco features a stubby undiplomatic rhythmic figure recalling Holst’s Mars and RVW 4. Fascinatingly, at 4.40, bells toll out dissolution and nightmare - looking far forward to the Fifth Symphony. A sort of repose is won at 10.00.

The cover of the booklet is from a painting by one of Joseph Holbrooke’s artist friends, James Dickson Innes (1887-1914).

Supportive liner notes complete the picture for a very recommendable disc even if for the First Symphony you would ideally want the full price Alwyn/LPO version on Lyrita.

Rob Barnett



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