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TRUSCOTT Symphony, Suite in G and Elegy National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, cond. Gary Brain   Marco Polo 8.223674 (60' 52")

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Harold Truscott (1914-1992) was largely self taught, but achieved an encyclopaedic knowledge of 19th & early 20th Century music. He taught at Blackheath Conservatoire and Huddersfield Polytechnic (now University) and wrote widely and provocatively. He was also well known as a broadcaster. Although he composed throughout his life this aspect remained less publicly known. I had the privilege of getting to know Harold well in his last years of failing health at Deal, due to a shared interest in Franz Schmidt, and he always regaled us with a fund of memories and opinions. Harold was also extremely knowledgeable about early film.

Harold Truscott continued to write and completed a first volume of The Music of Franz Schmidt (Toccata Press) but he was frustrated in efforts to get access to some of the original Schmidt scores and documentation needed to complete the project, and turned instead to a major study of Mendelssohn, which likewise remained uncompleted. It is hoped that a selection of his writings may be collected and re-issued.

As a composer Truscott was somewhat overshadowed by his long term friend and collaborator, Robert Simpson, with whom he shared many interests. Shortly after the War they founded the Exploratory Concert Society (I think that was its name?) at which I was introduced to the music of Nielsen (who Simpson championed vigorously) and regularly heard Harold Truscott, an impressive pianist, give his own piano sonatas. One of those was recorded by John Ogdon, but (so I believe) has remained unreleased.

The present CD arose from the discovery of unpublished, unknown music amongst Truscott's vast library of books, papers and scores. He received little encouragement and met indifference to his orchestral music and turned to chamber music and a long series of piano sonatas, ten of them issued on LP in the 1980s. Guy Rickards provides a substantial essay in the insert booklet.

Gary Brain had suffered a bizarre accident, which left him unable to function as a percussionist and he seized the opportunity to record in Ireland these unpublished, unknown works. The Elegy (1943) made quite a stir when it was released, and might have been popular if promoted earlier. It shows awareness of the idioms of established works for strings like those by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Howells and I was less convinced of its viability on rehearing now. The Symphony (probably 1948-49), on the other hand, impressed me more this time round, with its three individual movements craggy and quirky, rather like some music of Havergal Brian, about whom Truscott wrote. Nielsen, Sibelius, Shostakovich and Bruckner are mentioned in Guy Rickards' analysis, which will indicate what listeners should expect, though I think these influences are well assimilated and the symphony has an integrity and identity of its own.

Truscott was interested in tonal structures and goal directed development, and had little time for recent European innovations. The Suite (1966) was composed for a youth orchestra and its four movements show considerable orchestral imagination, again with echoes and reminiscences of composers he loved, those mentioned above in connection with the Symphony, together with Busoni, Hindemith and Schmidt.

The NSO of Ireland (formerly the RTE Symphony Orchestra) plays this unfamiliar music with confidence and the recording is satisfactory. Marco Polo has also issued a CD of Harold Truscott's chamber music (Marco Polo 6 223727) and two of the piano sonatas recorded by Peter Jacobs are available on BMS cassettes BMS410).


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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