Symphony No. 4 (1954) [31:35]
Symphony No. 7 (1972) [21:54]
Symphony No. 8 (1972) [24:32]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles
Groves (Sy 4 & 7)
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. 18-19 April 1972, Studio No. 1 Abbey
Road, London (4, 7) originally released
on EMI ASD 2855; 10-11 February 1979,
BBC Llandaff originally released on BBC
Regium REGL 359 (8). ADD
The original recordings with support from
the Welsh Arts Council. CD transfer and
re-mastering supported by the Arts Council
LYRITA SRCD.329 [78.05]
a year ago I was lamenting on this site the lack of attention
paid to composer Grace Williams. Two reasons for such neglect
sprang to mind; firstly, she was female, secondly she was
Welsh. One year on and matters have not really improved.
Cardiff University did plan a Grace Williams Symposium, only
for it to be cancelled due to bad weather - how unlikely
is that in Cardiff? BBC Music Magazine included some of Williams’ music
on one of their cover CDs, sparking some momentary interest
in one of Wales’ finest composers. In the long term, however,
none of this has had much of an impact upon the reputation
of, and coverage of, Welsh composers. It seems that, whilst
record companies are quite willing to exploit the Welsh musical
heritage (Kathryn Jenkins, Voices of the Valley etc.)
they seem unwilling to promote the wealth of home-grown talent
that is ready to be explored. One can hardly blame them when
you would be hard pushed to find a CD such as the present
album in any record shop in Cardiff - dominated now by the
twin giants of HMV and Virgin. Even Naxos, despite their
sterling efforts to record the musical byways of the British
Isles, have thus far neglected the Welsh.
the case of Daniel Jones I think such neglect is unfair.
On the strength of this record, I’m not sure that I would
invest in an entire symphony cycle; his musical voice is
one of grim determination, with the emphasis more on the
grim. To make a crass generalisation, I could say that the
symphonies on this disc are basically a set of variations
on Vaughan Williams’ Fourth Symphony. Anyone familiar
with that piece will probably know by now if the present
issue will appeal.
Jones’ own Fourth
Symphony makes its intentions clear in the opening
bars, glowering minor triads in the low brass. The ensuing
eleven minutes are absolutely gripping but, as I have suggested,
quite gruelling. Things liven up for the central movement,
which displays some deft touches of orchestration. Then
Jones returns to grim solemnity for the final movement.
Lyn Davies, in his excellent booklet notes (my own personal
contender for ‘booklet notes of the year’) postulates that
there are three distinct phases of Jones’ symphonic output.
The Fourth certainly falls into the first category, that
relating to the late Romantic tradition. Certainly the
shadow of Mahler looms large, in intent if not scope – at
31:35 this symphony is something of a dwarf compared to
Mahler’s symphonic output. I was perhaps most reminded
of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem in its unremitting
bleakness. It is also worth noting that this symphony was
composed in memory of Dylan Thomas.
Symphony was composed in 1954; the other two works
on this disc originate from two decades later. Both the Seventh and Eighth
Symphonies were composed in 1972, both the results
of commissions - from the Royal Philharmonic and the Swansea
Festival respectively. Groves was the dedicatee of the
Seventh and it is he who conducts both this work and the
earlier Fourth. The Royal Philharmonic may not be the most
glamorous of the London orchestras but they play here with
great fire and enthusiasm. They also appear to be completely
inside the idiom and the (originally EMI) recording is
not far short of spectacular.
Symphony sees a change of orchestra and conductor.
Thomson, like Groves, was a great admirer of Jones and
this shows in his powerful reading of the work. The (then)
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestraalso play magnificently,
proving that a recent spate of fantastic concerts (in their
current guise as BBC NOW) was not just the result of inspired
leadership from Thierry Fischer. The unnamed pianist does
exceptionally well in the third movement Capriccioso.
return finally to the booklet notes; Davies mentions Jones’ ‘zest
for life’. I could not honestly say that I felt much of that
whilst listening to this CD. But I am very glad to have made
the acquaintance of Jones’ symphonic output. Whatever his
failings, Jones certainly does not deserve the neglect that
he has suffered and his symphonies, whilst not displaying
the last ounce of originality that would make them repertoire
classics, should be heard more often. Those familiar with
Lyrita releases will know what to expect from the presentation;
I do quibble with the price though. Were it not for the relative
neglect by Naxos of the Welsh, this disc could conceivably
price itself out of the market. Naxos should certainly consider
this repertoire; it appears that there is a niche that they
have not yet conquered.
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