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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Alwyn conducts Alwyn

Derby Day, Overture (1960) [6’38]. The Magic Island, Symphonic Prelude (1952) [10’15]. Elizabethan Dances (1957) – Moderato e ritmico [2’48]; Waltz [2’38]; Poco allegretto e semplice [3’22]; Moderato [3’40]. Sinfonietta for Strings (1970) [26’24]. Festival March (1950) [8’20].
London Philharmonic Orchestra/William Alwyn.
No rec. info ADD

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 painting 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.

The Sinfonietta 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.

Colin Clarke

see Alwyn web-site

The Lyrita catalogue

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