This excellent disc
provides a rewarding conspectus of William
Alwyn’s output. Opening in the most
ebullient fashion imaginable with the
rhythmic drive of the Derby Day overture
(a BBC commission). Inspired by an 1858
by William Powell Frith (1819-1909),
listening to it, it is hard to credit
that it makes use of the composer’s
‘personal conception of 12-note technique’
(the composer). It is no easy piece
and the performance here is stunning.
The Symphonic Prelude
The Magic Island comes in great
contrast. Commissioned this time by
Barbirolli, the prelude is inspired
by Shakespeare (The Tempest),
the island in question being that of
Prospero. Scoring is appropriately magical
(there is a lovely passage for solo
violin and delicate strings around 8’12).
In terms of sheer imaginative scope,
this is the strongest item on the disc.
The ability to write
to order was one of Alwyn’s strengths.
The request for the Elizabethan Dances
came from the BBC Light Music Festival
in 1957 – Alwyn chose to record four
of the original six: Moderato e ritmico
(evocative of pipe and tabor, according
to Richard Noble’s notes); a suave,
insouciant Waltz; a Pavane (the highlight
of this selection in its delicate portrayal
of inner emotions); finally a bluesy,
slinkily suggestive ‘Moderato’. Light
music they certainly are, but this is
light music of the highest craftsmanship.
for Strings forms a much more substantive
statement than the music on the disc
so far, although the composer himself
referred to it as an ‘Avocation from
the long labours with an opera’ (Juan
or The Libertine). The recording
is a joy to experience, as the strings
are recreated faithfully with full depth
yet also with the utmost clarity. Interestingly,
the piece is dedicated to Mosco Carner,
the musicologist who provided an important
study of Alban Berg – apparently there
is a quote from the Lulu Adagio
in the second movement of this Sinfonietta.
Alwyn’s music here deals with deeper
issues than hitherto, especially in
the expressive second movement, with
its sweet-toned solo violin. The finale
continues the terse mode.
Finally, the Festival
March of 1950 rounds off the disc.
This rousing work is, in effect, Alwyn’s
Crown Imperial and would not
be out of place on the menu at the Last
Night of the Proms.