There is a whole world
of diversity on this disc, from the
bright and breezy Yorick Overture
to the more acerbic Music for Orchestra,
to the darker First Symphony and the
more overtly celebratory Second. The
disc implies that Bush is still alive
(giving simply a birth date). In fact
he died in 1998, so in effect this acts
as an eloquent tribute.
Yorick is, of
course, named after the jester in Hamlet
and, indeed, that over-used quote (‘Alas,
poor Yorick, I knew him well …’) can
be found at the head of Bush’s score.
The New Philharmonia under Vernon Handley
play with great verve (apparently the
score enjoyed the support of Sir John
Barbirolli, who conducted it with his
Hallé Orchestra at the 1955 Proms).
Music for Orchestra is actually
music for a youth orchestra (Shropshire
Schools’ Symphony). Bush refers to it
as a miniature symphony (hence the present
coupling with the two symphonies proper,
presumably). Certainly the first movement
is full of what might be best described
as ‘pastoral energy’. The Scherzo is
rhythmically alive, the rhythms punctuated
by timpani thwacks; shadows hang over
the Lento. Solo winds predominate in
the outer sections, while a solo quartet
of strings appears in the central part.
Finally, the fourth movement draws the
various lines of argument together.
The First Symphony
was completed twelve hours before the
birth of the composer’s elder son, in
April 1954. The musical world is immediately
more serious of intent than either of
the two preceding pieces on the disc.
The scoring is rather stark, even menacing.
To balance it, the second movement is
more attractive, set with a very English
sense of melancholy. There is much delicacy
here (and much excellent playing, particularly
from the clarinets at the very opening),
all tinged with the Blues (Bush also
quotes from Lambert’s Rio Grande
in the coda). As a final contrast, the
last movement is, in the composer’s
own words, ‘imbued with the spirit of
The Second Symphony
was commissioned as part of the celebrations
for the 700th anniversary
of the granting of a Royal Charter to
the city of Guildford. Cast in one continuous
movement (subdivided into four sections),
it is a decidedly festive work (some
harmonies even veer towards the ecstatic).
The ‘Non troppo lento’ has a contained
intensity that is magnificently maintained
in the present performance. There is
much jollity, even cheeky wit, in the
ensuing Vivo that seems to spill over
into the final Allegro moderato (the
excellent recording conveys the punchiness
As the composer himself
says with reference to the Second Symphony,
‘the listener is more likely to enjoy
the work if he abandons analysis and
allows him or herself to be caught up
in the prevailing atmosphere of jubilation’.
It is impossible to improve on this
advice, which seems so apt for the disc
as a whole.