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George LLOYD (1913-1998)
CD 1
Symphony No. 4 in B (1945-6) [60:02]
CD 2
Symphony No. 5 in B flat (1947-8) [57:34]
CD 3
Symphony No. 8 (1961 orch. 1965) [45:28]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Edward Downes
rec. 1982-84, London? ADD
LYRITA SRCD.2258 [3 CDs: 60:02 + 57:34 + 45:28]



The life of George Lloyd, as Lewis Foreman’s exemplary booklet notes tell us, was something of a heroic struggle against misfortune, ill health and the indifference of the musical establishment.
 
Born into a musical family in Cornwall in 1913, Lloyd started to learn the violin at the age of five and this enabled him to participate in local musical performances. Subsequently he continued his violin studies in London, with no less a figure than Albert Sammons. Harry Farjeon, the brother of the poet Eleanor Farjeon, was his composition tutor.  Early works included three symphonies - the third played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1935 under the composer’s baton - and two operas, Iernin and The Serf, dating from 1934 and 1938 respectively. The latter was produced at Covent Garden conducted by Albert Coates where it was well received. All seemed set for a successful career.
 
During the Second World War Lloyd served as gunner on the North Atlantic convoys. On one such voyage in 1942 Lloyd’s ship was sunk due to a faulty torpedo and Lloyd was severely affected by shell-shock. Moving to his wife’s home country of Switzerland, and with her constant support and encouragement, Lloyd endeavoured to resurrect his musical career. The physical and psychological damage caused by his wartime experiences made this something of an uphill struggle. It is against this background of convalescence that Lloyd wrote his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies.
 
Lloyd was then commissioned to write an opera for the 1951 Festival of Britain, John Socman, which was premiered in Bristol in May 1951 by the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Although popular with audiences the critics were not impressed and this contributed to a further decline in Lloyd’s health. Moving to Dorset, he established a career as a market-gardener for the next twenty years, only returning intermittently to composition.
 
It was during the 1970s that the support and advocacy of figures such as Charles Groves, John Ogdon and Edward Downes led to a renaissance in performances of Lloyd’s music. Downes in particular programmed several of Lloyd’s symphonies with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (later BBC Philharmonic) and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Concerts in Manchester and elsewhere led to the three recordings presented on these Lyrita discs. Subsequently Lloyd himself recorded much of his output for the American Albany label as a result of the enthusiasm of director Peter Kermani. This further raised Lloyd’s profile and he himself was delighted and reinvigorated by the attention his music received. Leaving his business in Dorset, he moved to London and resumed composition. Several new works followed, many premiered under the composer’s baton, in Britain and the United States. Audiences were delighted by the approachability of Lloyd’s scores. “Buckets of Dollars” was the composer’s delighted response. The onset of heart failure in the autumn of 1996 eventually led to his death, aged 85, two years later.
 
So what of these pioneering performances under Downes’ baton? I’ve not heard the composer’s own later recordings, but Downes as we have seen was a great admirer of Lloyd’s music and this is reflected in the drive and commitment of the Lyrita performances.
 
The storminess of the Fourth Symphony’s opening Allegro moderato surely reflects the demons that a traumatised Lloyd was trying to lay to rest in the post-war years. Bold fanfares alternate with woodwind figures before the music settles down to Bax-like melodic figures, ostinati and sequences building a powerful sense of tension. Dramatic passages alternate with sunnier episodes, but the music never loses impetus and builds to a powerful climax. Towards the end wailing woodwind and gunshot cracks on timpani give way to a calmer passage before a brief return of the opening fanfares end this powerful music.
 
High, still strings open the Lento tranquillo, creating an atmosphere of stillness which contrasts with the first movement, although Lloyd’s use of chromatic figures prevent the music from becoming too restful. This leads to a more animated central section that would not be out of place in one of Tchaikovsky’s suites, before an abridged return of the initial music.
 
The drama of the first movement and songfulness of the second are contrasted with the vivid dance music of the Allegro scherzando. George Lloyd’s melodic gifts come into their own here and conductor and orchestra appear to relish the sheer joie-de-vivre of the music. What would Beecham have made of it, I wonder? Buoyant, vivace passages are contrasted with a slower section that again seems to suggest inspiration from Russian music.
 
A horn melody over tremolo strings introduces the last movement. This builds to a powerfully affirmative melody before Lloyd launches us into a joyful moto perpetuo, largely based on one or two themes. The sheer energy of this movement is remarkable. A contrasting central section with woodwind and running figures on lower strings clouds the music for a time before Lloyd brings back the initial section and the symphony romps home to an affirmative close.
 
Lloyd wanted the Fifth Symphony to represent a “psychological journey” with each movement representing a particular stage in that pilgrimage.  The first movement Pastorale is indeed a representation of bucolic innocence with its gentle woodwind solos and arabesques. Although Lloyd says in his programme notes for the work that he has omitted brass and percussion from the movement, apparently this does not extend to horns which can be clearly heard at 2:53 and 6:12. Overall the delicacy of this movement reflects Lloyds own desire to counter against the “over thick and opulent excesses of the late Romantics” Lloyd’s use of a flattened seventh here and there recalls Nielsen’s use of this device in his music.
 
The second movement is entitled Corale and starts with solemn brass chords before embarking on what Lloyd describes as an “ecclesiastical” tune. He likens the serious tread of this movement to the austere Calvinism observed in Switzerland at the time he was writing this symphony. To emphasise the solemnity Lloyd omits violins and violas. This generates a dark processional mood throughout the movement.
 
With the Rondo Lloyd works with a gossamer-like texture and chattering woodwind and strings. More animated episodes contrast effectively with the return of the Rondo theme itself.
 
The fourth movement is marked Lamento and here Lloyd uses the full orchestra for the first time in the work. The music now touches on depths that have hitherto been avoided. An emphasis on darker colours and heavy brass create something of a doom-laden atmosphere which is swept aside by the Finale (Vivace). As in the Fourth Symphony Lloyd now seeks to create a positive conclusion to the work by way of contrast after the dark character of the previous movement. Bustling strings and bright themes lighten the mood and bring the symphony to a positive conclusion.
 
The Eighth Symphony followed another period of self-doubt during which Lloyd had concentrated on non-musical activities. The work was written in 1961 although the orchestration was not completed until 1965. The first performance did not take place until 1977! The BBC broadcast of this symphony did much to alert people to Lloyd’s music and the subsequent resurgence of his career could be said to date from this time. In the Eighth Symphony Lloyd is harmonically more adventurous than in the Fourth and Fifth, and there is a surer grasp of material.
 
The first movement Tranquillo – Allegro opens with a dreamy introduction, featuring descending motifs on woodwind over a carpet of strings, before a sforzando chord heralds the start of the Allegro proper. Scurrying strings and syncopated rhythms alternate with more lyrical passages. Lloyd’s writing for brass is especially memorable and builds to a powerful climax at 14:30 before a culminating statement of the lyrical music. The music of the slow introduction returns at the end and the movement concludes with an uneasy calm.
 
The Largo opens with tremolando strings and harp figurations, creating a mysterious atmosphere. Again the music seems slightly Baxian in feel. The main part of the movement is a slow march which Lloyd contrasts with allegretto interludes. These alternate and build to a powerful statement of the main theme at 9:12. The opening music returns at the end.
 
Lloyd likens the final Vivace movement to the tarantella of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, and there is certainly the same sense of moto perpetuo to be felt in the two works. Harmonically the music is unsettled with constant brass interjections propel the music towards the conclusion, relieved only by a short interlude just before the end which recalls the Largo.
 
“I was determined not to write long, highly organised symphonies full of Elgarian splendours”. So wrote Lloyd in a programme note, and in many ways his music can be seen as a personal reaction against what he viewed as the excessive tension and drama of several contemporary composers. There is little of the apocalyptic menace of Walton’s First or Vaughan Williams’s Fourth, or the close motivic workings of Sibelius. Lloyd seems more interested in working with blends of orchestral colour or contrasting - and admittedly memorable - themes rather than working these into a closely argued framework. Listeners unfamiliar with this music who have come to think of the twentieth-century symphony as a vehicle for expressing the darker events of the time may be surprised at the lightness of touch and consonance of harmony Lloyd uses in these works, particularly when you consider his own struggles. Despite his statement above, these are long symphonies by any standards. Lloyd is generally successful in controlling the contrast, pace and development of his ideas in a way that constantly holds the listener’s attention.
 
The performances are first rate. Downes and the Philharmonia realise the changing moods of the music to perfection, and play with genuine commitment. The sound and balance of these late-analogue recordings is excellent and a very believable concert-hall balance is created. As usual with Lyrita the presentation is of a high standard, with fascinating programme notes by Lewis Foreman and the composer himself.
 
Ewan McCormick

see also review by Rob Barnett and Paul Conway's article on Lloyd's symphonies
 
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