Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


Symphonic Studies
Oboe Concerto
Cello Concerto.

Stéphane Rancourt (oboe), Alexander Baillie (cello), Royal National Scottish Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones
Naxos 8.554763
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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.

Rob Barnett

See also review by Paul Conway

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