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Geoffrey BUSH (1920-1998)
Overture, Yoricka (1949) [8’32]. Music for Orchestrab (1967) [16’08]. Symphonies – No. 1c (1954) [27’38]; No. 2, ‘The Guildfordd (1957) [26’48]
aNew Philharmonia Orchestra, bLondon Philharmonic Orchestra/abVernon Handley; cLondon Symphony Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite; dRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth.
Rec. Kingsway Hall, London on aAugust 25th, 1976, cAugust 2nd-3rd, 1978, bWalthamstow Assembly Hall, on January 4th, 1972, dWatford Town Hall, on January 13th, 1994. ADD/dDDD


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 Italian comedy’.

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 perfectly).

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.

Colin Clarke

The Lyrita catalogue


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