I have no caveats here. This is a maginficent disc and would be gladly welcomed
were it to be on sale at premium price. At the ridiculously low Naxos price
I urge everyone with an interest in British music to grab this recording
immediately. It is a worthy successor to the violin concerti in the
Naxos Rawsthorne stable. The Rawsthorne
Trust and John Belcher have put their time and money into these recordings
and are to be highly commended for doing so. The recording was made in the
Victoria Hall, Bolton which I presume is the Town Hall, and is a bright,
close, rich sound that is now becoming commonplace on Naxos British recordings.
Once again the cover Art is a painting by Isabel, Rawsthorne's second wife,
- stick men and fish in boxes which in no way resembles the glorious romantic
music on the disc.
Concerto for string orchestra (1949) [21:27], in three movements,
is an energetic exciting work in a similar vein to Britten's Variations
on a theme of Frank Bridge and is to be recommended to anyone who likes
that work. As for all the works recorded here John Belcher has usefully provided
detailed technical notes. After a striking, striding opening, a solo violin
produces a moment of quiet thoughfulness before a return of the tumultuous
opening ideas, leading to a sudden conclusion. The slow movement has the
gravity of a Bruckner adagio and manages to sound rather like one lending
great weight to the work. Possibly a more accurate comparison would be with
the Funeral March from the aforementioned Bridge variations. The allegro
piacevole (tr. pleasing or agreeable) enters without a pause. A fugato
lifts us back into the sunshine with a beautiful melody emerging from the
violins leading to an energetic, uplifting ending.
Concertante pastorale (1951)[10.01] has the unusual combination
of flute with horn and strings. This was a commission for a concert to be
performed in the Hampton Court Orangery and a precondition was that the principal
theme, heard on the horn, should be both sweet and lyrical. The horn is used
expressively, promoting the theme, with the flute and strings adding a decorative
commentary. It all works much better than I anticipated with the horn beautifully
caught by engineer John Taylor in a well balanced recording.
Light music for strings (1938) is a short piece [3:58] using
Catalan themes in sympathy with the Spanish Civil War. Those familiar with
Holst's St Paul's Suite or Warlock's Capriol Suite will know
what to expect.
Suite for recorder and orchestra [6:34] is the
sort of title that will normally send me into cover. This was written around
1940 but the performance was prevented by the War and all that existed was
a transcription for viola d'amore and piano which came into the Trust's
possession in 1992. John McCabe has reorchestrated
it for this recording. The suite consists of four short movements:
Sarabande, Fantasia, Air and Jig incorporating folk material,
and is composed in what John Belcher describes as an antique style.
Elegiac Rhapsody (1964) [10:14] is a real discovery and the
most moving piece on the disc. It was written in memory of the poet and dramatist
Louis MacNeice (1907-63). This is a very powerful work for string orchestra
opening mysteriously and sorrowfully (c.f Holst's Egdon Heath) but
soon turning to anger and ultimately despair. The work proceeds in alternating
sections with the quiet sorrowful music becoming squeezed out by lengthening
sections of white-hot protest and anger. Certainly a work of value and one
to return to.
Divertimento for chamber orchestra (1962)[11:23] was written
for Harry Blech and the London Mozart Players. The strings are joined by
two flutes, two bassoons, two oboes and two horns. The movements are Rondo,
Lullaby and Jig. In common with all the other works presented
here, there is a solidity and purpose in Rawsthorne's writing and this disc
has greatly enhanced my opinion of the composer which had already been revised
with the Naxos issue of the two violin concertos.
A second opinion:
This latest CD released by Naxos brings together six works for Chamber Orchestra
by Alan Rawsthorne. They are played by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, conductor
David Lloyd-Jones, with the customary attention to detail that we have come
to expect from this excellent group of musicians. The pieces were written
between the years 1938 and 1964 and display every aspect of Rawsthorne's
mastery of structure and instrumental colour.
Even on a first hearing of the Concerto for String Orchestra (1949)
one is aware that Rawsthorne has an individual voice. The turn of phrase
and string textures follow in the tradition of other composers using this
genre without ever sounding remotely like them. It is a work to go back to
many times in order to savour his distinctive voice.
The same could be said for the Concertante pastorale for Flute, Horn &
Strings. (1951). The two wind instruments add that touch of evening
melancholy that one associates with landscape painting of pastoral subjects.
It is good to have the Light Music for Strings (based on Catalan Tunes)
(1938) once more in the catalogue. This short work should be in the
repertoire of every amateur orchestra because it is such fun to play and
acts as a useful stepping stone to more complex works in the same genre,
like the Britten I Berkeley Mont Juic. Both works are a potent
reminder of an important period in European history which has been celebrated
in music by English composers.
The Suite for Recorder & String Orchestra arranged by John McCabe
(c 1940s) is a gift for recorder players, either in its present form
or the alternative with piano.* It reminds us that the songs and dances
of the sixteenth century are an important part of our musical tradition,
as is the recorder. The strange, almost sinister melody of Wooddy-Cock
stays in the mind long after the sound has died away.
The Elegiac Rhapsody (1964) is a fitting tribute to the memory of
the poet, Louis MacNeice, whose musical lines also linger in the memory.
The string textures are most arresting, encouraging one to stop and go back
over what has just been played. The moods change from anger to sad acceptance
and are expressed in many descending phrases. It is reduced at times to a
small handful of solo instruments in true chamber music tradition, the individual
voice suggesting a kind of 'keening'.
The final piece is the Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra (1961/2)
and once again the composer includes wind instruments. The colour of each
is presented with total clarity always underlined by rhythmic vitality. The
lines of melody wander in a controlled fashion, responding to that tug of
the lead which brings them back to base. The bareness of the second movement
Lullaby is a model of restraint, the deft touches of colour from the
wind instruments enhance the melodic line. There is a truly 'get up and go'
last movement in which the textures are similar to those found in the baroque
concerto grosso; plenty of activity for every player. This is a most rewarding
collection of pieces, another bargain from Naxos! Yet again David Lloyd-Jones
has added another distinguished contribution to a major series of British
*Newly available in the collection for recorder and piano John & Peter's
Whistling Book, Forsyth Brothers Ltd. Manchester 2 CDs FSOO1 1002
You can learn more about the composer from the
Rawsthorne Web Site
If you purchase this disc, as you surely must, reduce your average postage
by also purchasing the companion disc:
Violin Concertos 1& 2, Fantasy Overture: Cortèges
Rebecca Hirsch (violin),
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, cond. Lionel Friend
see review here
Naxos also lists a third disc which I have yet to hear:
RAWSTHORNE Quintet for Piano and
Strings, Piano trio, Cello Sonata, Viola sonata, Concertante for Violin and
Piano John McCabe
(piano) Martin Outram (viola) Rogeri Trio
Currently at a special low-midprice there is a recording of the Rawsthorne
Clarinet Quartet coupled with two other British works:
Rawsthorne's symphonies are available on a Lyrita CD: