> RAWSTHORNE A Canticle of Man [HC]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905 – 1971)
Oboe Quartet (1935)1
Lament for a Sparrow (1962)2
Studies on a Theme by Bach (1936)1
A Canticle of Man (1952)3
Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra (1947)4

Camarada (Sylvia Harper, oboe; Jake Pea, violin; David Aspin, viola; Joseph Spooner, cello)1; David Heathcote (tenor)2; Stephen Pascoe (baritone)3; David Watkins (harp)2; Jill Crowther (oboe)4; Alan Cuckston Singers23; City of Bradford Chamber Orchestra3; English Northern Philharmonia4; Alan Cuckston
Recorded : Pateley Bridge Parish Church, July 2000 (Lament, Canticle of Man); Leeds University Great Hall, June 2000 (Oboe Concerto); ASC Recording Macclesfield, May and June 2000 (Oboe Quartet, Studies)
ASC CS CD46 [64:26]

Alan Rawsthorne’s music is now – at long last – given some renewed consideration and most of his major works are available in commercial recordings (see NAXOS and ASV). The present release is particularly welcome in that it features rarely heard works from various periods of the composer’s composing life.

The Oboe Quartet dates from 1935 and is thus a fairly early work which receives here its first recording and one of its rare performances. (Rawsthorne completed a second oboe quartet in 1970, available on REDCLIFFE RR006.) The First Oboe Quartet has much in common with other Rawsthorne pieces from the same period and is particularly remarkable for the formal and technical assurance it displays. Its three compact movements encompass a wide range of moods and emotions expressed in Rawsthorne’s customary way. A very worthwhile addition to Rawsthorne’s expanding discography.

The Studies on a Theme by Bach for string trio, completed in 1936, may sound a bit more austere although many of Rawsthorne’s fingerprints are already much in evidence; his idiomatic string writing particularly so. A short but highly rewarding piece well worth hearing.

Though he is mainly regarded as an instrumental composer, Rawsthorne nevertheless composed a good deal of vocal and choral music, much commented upon, rarely heard and recorded. The present release thus usefully fills some gaps in our appreciation of Rawsthorne’s work, though his major choral pieces are still to be given their due.

Lament for a Sparrow (1962) for tenor, mixed voices and harp is a fine example of Rawsthorne’s choral writing, though on a small scale here. It sets a poem by Catullus (in Latin). The music wonderfully evokes the nostalgic strains of the text and the sometimes tense choral writing is sparsely but tellingly coloured by the harp. A minor masterpiece.

A Canticle of Man f 1952 is the first of several collaborations with Randall Swingler (another product is the beautifully moving a capella setting A Rose for Lidice of 1956 [REDCLIFFE RR011]). Swingler’s poem deals with the Blakean theme of lost innocence and Man’s questionings, and ends in a renewed hope in Man’s ability to cast-off "the rage of nature in Man’s infant soul". Rawsthorne’s setting for baritone, mixed voices, flute and strings alternates declamatory choral writing and wistful musing from the baritone, delicately supported by the flute. A beautiful, moving piece that undoubtedly deserves wider exposition, though Rawsthorne’s choral writing puts huge demands on the singers. The Alan Cuckston Singers rise bravely to the occasion but have some problems with intonation. I also agree with the late Bernard Stevens who believed that the work’s impact would have been heightened if conceived on a grander scale. However, this recorded live performance serves the piece well and I for one hope that it will help Rawsthorne’s choral music to become better known and appreciated. We may soon have brand-new recordings of Rawsthorne’s large choral works by Hickox or David Lloyd-Jones, but in the meantime we must be grateful to Alan Cuckston and his assembled forces for giving the piece a chance to be re-appraised.

Besides the piano concertos, Rawsthorne’s other concertos have all been rarely heard, if at all. Recent recordings of the Cello Concerto and of the Violin Concertos have somewhat redressed the balance. The Oboe Concerto of 1947 has long remained unheard after its first performance in Cheltenham, but a recent recording (Stephen Rancourt with the RSNO conducted by David Lloyd-Jones on NAXOS 8.554763) proved that it was a very fine work, highly characteristic of Rawsthorne from first to last. An excellent performance here by Jill Crowther expertly supported by the English Northern Sinfonia and the best recording in this release.

As already hinted at earlier, this release might be worth having for the choral pieces, even if these brave performances might have been better, but it also includes two very fine, hitherto unrecorded rarities.

Hubert Culot

See Rawsthorne Society Web Pages

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