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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Symphony No. 1 (1949) [35:57]
Symphony No. 2 (1953) [25:02]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli (1)
Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli (2)
rec. BBC Studios, Maida Vale, London, 11 June 1952 (1); 25 Oct 1953 (2). ADD. mono
archive recordings - limited edition
DUTTON CDSJB1029 [62:46]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is bound to speak to both Barbirolli and Alwyn enthusiasts. The music is sumptuous, strong in romantic atmosphere and laden with tragedy. For this reason it is a pity that the listener must settle for mono and archival 1950s sound even if it has been coaxed and tended to optimum results by Michael Dutton. The First Symphony sounds extremely clean but the Second suffers from some residual analogue rustling. Naturally treble response is restricted as you would expect from tapes now more than a half century old and never designed for commercial release.
The Baxian majesty of the first movement (7:20) of the First Symphony must have suited Barbirolli. He had after all conducted both the Fifth and Sixth Bax symphonies at the Proms and at the Cheltenham Festival. The critical reception of this, then desperately unfashionable, music had been savage. In Alwyn 1 the orchestra revel in the RVW-style whispers, galloping Baxian majesty and cunning rhythmic ingenuity of the second movement. It's strange though to hear Barbirolli scouting over the grander moments at 1:02 and 5:43. Interesting too to note that when the composer recorded this work for Lyrita SRCD227 in 1977 he took 41:13 – that’s minutes longer than Barbirolli overall. The third movement's bell-swinging reflective deliberation is heard in the horns and cor anglais. The searching mezzo voce elegiac line is strongly put across. The splendid Elgarian Cockaigne cacophony of the finale (1.30) is also notable. This is a reading of much energy that gathers itself repeatedly for some grittily exciting and triumphant climaxes. It's even Beethovenian at 8:39 and a at 8:50 it buffets the listener back for one moment to the luxurious yearning line heard at 1.22 in first movement.
Four years after the First Alwyn wrote his Second Symphony: he planned and wrote a sequence of four dating: 1949, 1953, 1956 and 1959. This Barbirolli reading seems comparatively sombre beside David Lloyd-Jones' version issued on Naxos. As for the composer's own recording with the LPO in 1975 (SRCD228) it is again about five minutes longer than Barbirolli.
After this perhaps we can look to Dutton and the Alwyn Foundation with the Cambridge University Library to release the superb Fourth conducted by Hugo Rignold. Rignold had his great moments and this was one of them as was his CBSO Bliss Lyrita disc . There are also those birthday concerts that Alwyn himself conducted with the BBC regional orchestras in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; not to mention the Sargent-conducted premiere of Lyra Angelica with Sidonie Goossens which was rebroadcast by the BBC circa 1989.
Alwyn advocates and Barbirolli enthusiasts should lose no time and acquire these fascinating retrievals. I hope that the response will encourage Dutton to push the Alwyn boat out yet further.
Rob Barnett


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