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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Symphonies: No. 1a (1950) [22’56]; No. 2, ‘A Pastoral Symphonyb (1959) [19’47]; No. 3 (1964) [32’03]
abLondon Symphony Orchestra/aSir John Pritchard, bNicholas Braithwaite; cBBC Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar. With bTracey Chadwell (soprano).
Rec. acKingsway Hall aon March 25th, 1975, cin April 1967; bin Watford Town Hall on August 25th-26th, 1993. ADD/bDDD
Original recordings of Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 made in association with The British Council; Symphony No. 2 recorded with the support of The Rawsthorne Trust.

Peter Donohoe’s recording of the Rawsthorne Piano Concertos on Naxos last year was as good an indicator as any of the stature of this composer. The present Lyrita disc stands as the ideal complement. John McCabe, himself a notable composer, provides insightful booklet notes.

Perhaps Rawsthorne’s finest quality is that his music can sound recognisably English without moving towards the idealised indulgence that can mar music from that country. The First Symphony (the first performance of which was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult) provides ample evidence of this in the second movement, Lento, while the first movement is highly energetic, very inventive and superbly scored. The predominant 5/8 rhythm of the Scherzo gives the music a restless, shifting quality.

The Second Symphony makes use of a soprano soloist in the finale (making reference, perhaps, to Mahler’s Fourth – or Vaughan Williams’ own ‘Pastoral’). The poem, by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516-1547) is reprinted in the booklet. Tracey Chadwell is excellent, her clarion clarity a real bonus, and Braithwaite conjures up the requisite mysterious atmosphere (there is some superb trumpet playing during the course of this movement also). Yet the weight of argument lies in the first movement, which nevertheless emerges as gentle and assured. The Scherzo is labelled ‘Country Dance’ – its lilting wind phrases are immediately appealing. The language here is spiky (yet not so much as to invoke Stravinsky, for example) and Nicholas Braithwaite ensures that the LPO are on top form.

The Third Symphony is the longest of the works on this disc. Dedicated to the composer’s wife, Isabel, it is in many ways the finest of his symphonies. Perhaps surprisingly, there is a twelve-note row in operation (as McCabe points out, though, it all still sounds like Rawsthorne). The first movement is certainly more challenging and more complex than anything on the disc so far. The second movement, too, speaks of more expressive worlds than hitherto (and certainly deeper than its indication, ‘Alla Sarabanda - Andantino’, might seem to imply). The finale is a virtuoso tour de force that the BBC Symphony Orchestra rises magnificently to: the argument is sometimes quite thorny and intense.

Well worth hearing – do try to listen also to the Naxos Rawsthorne Piano Concertos disc if Rawsthorne’s music appeals. Highly recommended.

Colin Clarke

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