Bainton's Symphony No. 2 in D minor was completed in 1939 in Australia. The
piece nevertheless used sketches made in about 1933 when Bainton planned
a tone poem based on Swinburne's poem Thalassa. These sketches were taken
out in 1939 and expanded into a sizeable multi-sectional work cast in one
single movement and roughly adhering to the traditional symphonic model.
This fairly impressive, warmly romantic work is nevertheless "an end rather
than a beginning" (Lewis Foreman). Bainton's Second Symphony has many powerful
moments such as the slow introduction building to a first mighty climax.
This is followed by some scherzo-like sections with some heavily pounding
bass drum strokes which have a menacing effect that reminds us that the work
was completed in 1939. The succeeding slow sections open with a Baxian
"shimmering orchestra" (Lewis Foreman) and after reaching some climaxes lead
into a fairly impressive, majestic peroration. Though overtly romantic the
music at times has echoes of Bax and Moeran. Though no shattering masterpiece
Bainton's Second is still a beautiful piece of music, superbly written, that
has its impressive moments and that unquestionably deserves more than the
occasional hearing. Hubert Clifford's Symphony 1940 completed at about the
same time as Bainton's Second is another impressive achievement by a composer
whose stature as "serious composer" has still to be re-appraised. This ambitious,
though not flawless work has much to commend itself. Its four movements follow
the traditional symphonic pattern with a short scherzo placed second followed
by a weighty slow movement that really is the heart of the symphony. The
first movement, which Clifford described as "epic", opens with much energy
and achieves a considerable momentum before ending on "a questioning horn
call" which leaves the argument unresolved. The slightly grotesque scherzo
that follows somewhat relaxes the tension accumulated in the course of the
first movement. As already mentioned the slow movement is the longest and
the weightiest as well of the whole work. The pastoral mood of its opening
soon gives way to a more elegiac, at times troubled mood building to some
tremendous climaxes before calming down to the opening mood. The last movement
has the same rhythmic energy as the first movement. Tension builds up again
until the final peroration is reached. Then the central theme from the first
movement, now given out by trumpets, is superimposed over the end of the
symphony "in effect shaking a defiant fist at heaven and would-be oppressors"
(Lewis Foreman). Clifford's music has echoes of Walton and Bliss but is still
personal enough to retain attention from first to last. No mean achievement
indeed by a composer who obviously put much of his most intimate self into
this powerfully evocative music. This unusual release is completed by John
Gough's short, Delius-like Serenade for Small Orchestra written in 1931 for
Hubert Clifford's wedding.
This is the kind of release that should appeal to any member for this is
really what the Society is aiming at and looking for, i.e. high quality
performances and recordings of unfamiliar byways of the British symphonic
tradition to which the Australian-born Hubert Clifford unquestionably belongs.
The BBC Philharmonic marvellously support Vernon Handley's committed readings
of these impressive, though long forgotten symphonies. Unreservedly recommended.
see also earlier review by Rob Barnett