Stéphane Rancourt (oboe),
Alexander Baillie (cello), Royal National Scottish Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones
Rawsthorne has been given a blessed following-wind as a result of his film
music. The Rawsthorne Trust have wisely reinvested the income from worldwide
television showings of the films into a series of CDs which will long keep
his name alive.
This disc is especially valuable. Its
predecessor, which coupled the two
violin concertos (Rebecca Hirsch), did very well (despite coming up against
competition from a Carlton Classics coupling of BBC archive recordings).
The present disc promises to do even better.
The Cello Concerto is a motivic work from Rawsthorne's last and most challenging
period. It is not an easy winner and its rewards will only yield to repeated
listenings. It is given an atmospheric interpretation and the typically lucid
recording brings out its cellular character. This is not a work of directly
lyrical expression nor of dramatic defiance. Another intriguing British cello
concerto continuing the same line as the Walton, the Bax and the Moeran -
none of them totally successful - all of them with sustaining interest.
Rawsthorne is well served by Baillie and the orchestra. Dramatic defiance
well describes the Symphonic Studies - Rawsthorne's first orchestral
composition. His career was launched with this piece at the Warsaw ISCM
in April 1939. Stridently and strenuously protesting this score rears and
shouts in a scalding single movement display. The language is close to that
he adopted for the films (and parallels the First Symphony with which it
was coupled on a long deleted Lyrita LP - LPO/John Pritchard). Other voices
can be heard too including the 1927 Music for Orchestra by Rawsthorne's
friend, Constant Lambert. Lambert recorded the Rawsthorne in the 1950s and
this was reissued on Classics for Pleasure LP in the 1960s and on Pearl last
year. That archive recording (Pearl) now sounds unruly and primitive by
comparison. In a strange pre-echo I also thought repeatedly of the later
Concerto for Orchestra by Bartók. I wonder if Bartók
attended the Warsaw performance. A splendid version celebrating the bitter
lyricism and desperate aspiration of this classic piece. Finally the Oboe
Concerto. This is a recording premiere though in terms of when it was taped
it was probably pipped on session dates by the soon-to-be-issued ASV British
Oboe Concerto CD. This is a tuneful gem of a piece which had me thinking
of Malcolm Arnold's Oboe Concerto No 1 although Rawsthorne's memorable but
wan singing does not have quite the instant allure of an Arnold theme. Still
both composers were practised hands in cinema music and their effectiveness
as tunesmiths is not in doubt. Rawsthorne's reticence and disciplined 'compass'
strike a watermark through and through this work as it does through the other
two pieces. Rancourt plays with sensitivity and élan and the orchestra
balance their part well against the diminutive but probing tone of the oboe.
A word of praise, too, for the uncomplicated design of the leaflet cover.
The design (around a previously unpublished black and white photo of the
composer) is unfussy, legible and functional - a compelling combination.
Would that the majors would adopt this forthright approach and drop 'clever'
designs in favour of something that does the job as well as this.
The disc to have if you want one representative Rawsthorne orchestral entry
for your shelves. Bargain price is a bonus.
See also review by Paul Conway