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Alun HODDINOTT (b.1929)
Symphonies – No. 2, Op. 29a (1962) [26’55]; No. 3, Op. 61b (1968) [21’28]; No. 5, Op. 81c (1972) [11’03].
abLondon Symphony Orchestra/aNorman Del Mar, bDavid Atherton; cRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis.
Rec. aBishopsgate Institute, London on September 24th and/or 25th, 1967 (originally issued on Pye Virtuoso TPLS13013); bcKingsway Hall, London, in bMarch 1972 (Decca SXL6570), cMarch 1973 (SXL6606) ADD

Dedicated to Alan Rawsthorne, Hoddinott’s Second Symphony was first performed in 1962 at the Cheltenham Festival by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It is a ‘large’ work (in terms of ambition, not duration), opening with a sprawling Adagio. Essentially Romantic at heart, with a powerful sense of the isolated gesture, this Adagio moves slowly but inevitably to climaxes that can only be described as granitic. It is up to a nimble scherzo to provide contrast and with the LSO on commanding form, this is certainly fleet-of-foot, with more than a hint of devilry about it. This movement is hugely entertaining, the rhythmic alternations giving the music its propulsive drive. Interestingly, the finale is also a Scherzo and Trio (framed by Introduction and Coda); but it is the Molto Adagio that forms the still, but emotionally powerful centre of the work. Norman Del Mar presents its impassioned melodies unapologetically.

The Third Symphony (a Hallé commission) again begins with an Adagio, this one if anything even more serious of intent than the parallel movement in Symphony No. 2. Hoddinott calls for an expanded percussion section, in keeping with the work’s extended orchestrational palette. The percussion come into their own in the delightful, spiky Scherzo, a movement that works itself up so much it seems to exhaust itself.

Some of that fizz spills over, though, into the Allegro that launches the Symphony’s second part, full of intensely jagged motifs and lines. Hoddinott writes music of great delicacy, also. The Symphony No. 3 is a glittering jewel of a piece (in my humble opinion the best work on this disc) and David Atherton’s superb ear ensures it glistens fully here.

It was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that commissioned the Fifth Symphony (1972 – the works on this disc proceed in four-year intervals). The work was sketched while the composer was holidaying in Switzerland and Italy (a Welsh Années de pèlerinage?) and it is true that a certain Italianate lyricism informs the score. The composer even writes, ‘… it would perhaps be not too fanciful to detect here and there in the score the presence of alpine horns, cattle bells, and Tuscan mists’, and how right he is. The RPO hit top form here, capturing the aura of often vibrant nostalgia perfectly. More challenging, possibly, than either of the other two symphonies here, the Fifth repays repeated hearings.

The recordings are superb, with excellent remastering by Simon Gibson. Lyrita hold their hands up to a technical fault in the master tape of Symphony No. 2 (irregular background noise on the left channel in the first movement at c5’55 – definitely an edit-point - to 8’33), but the sweep of Hoddinott’s invention more than carries the music through.

On the strength of the present offering, Hoddinott the symphonist demands attention.

Colin Clarke

The Lyrita catalogue

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