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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Symphony no.1 (1950) [24:40]
Symphony no.2 (1959) ‘A Pastoral Symphony’ [19:47]
Symphony no.3 (1964) [30:43]
Charlotte Ellett (soprano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
Recorded in the Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset UK, January 6th-8th, 2004
NAXOS 8.557480 [75:10]

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It has been a thrilling experience getting to know these symphonies. Though I’ve always been an admirer of Rawsthorne and thought him much underrated, I blush to confess that, other than a single live hearing of No. 2 many years ago, these fine works were completely unknown to me. I urge lovers of English music to hurry out and get this CD, because it makes fascinating listening, and these meticulously prepared performances by David Lloyd-Jones and the BSO (leader David Nolan) do full justice to the music.

As you can see from the dates above, the symphonies do not span a large period of Rawsthorne’s career – just fourteen years, when, however, he was at the height of his powers. Unexpectedly, the opening of Symphony no.1 of 1950 made me think immediately of Carl Nielsen – in the Espansiva or Inextinguishable – in the way that we are plunged impetuously into the thick of the action. However, the voice is Rawsthorne’s own; very soon one becomes alert to those characteristic touches of harmony, melody and orchestration that make him so distinctive.

The Second Symphony’s subtitle ‘A Pastoral Symphony’ inevitably brings thoughts of Vaughan Williams to mind. But beware, because temperamentally, the two composers had little in common. Yes they strikingly share a soprano soloist in the finale, and have also in common that the pastoral nature of the music is compromised by a sense of unease. But Rawsthorne’s language is far more chromatic and angular, and there is little of the folk-melody derived use of modes that we find in the older writer. The fine poco lento second movement broods on clashing major/minor tonalities, while its central section has a deceptively naïve melody (incorporating the major/minor dichotomy) reminiscent of Prokofiev.

The mood lightens with the Country Dance of the third movement – echoes of Street Corner overture here – but the finale reverts to something more thoughtful, with its sensitive setting of Henry Howard’s poem about the arrival of summer. Tellingly, Rawsthorne frames the soprano’s delicate solo with music of profound melancholy, matching the poet’s final line, "Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs". This ambivalent music is perfectly captured in Charlotte Ellett’s singing.

The Third Symphony is easily the most progressive in terms of its language. The composer employs serial techniques to organise and develop his material, and the orchestration is often startlingly original. The fragmentation and unpredictability of the first movement is countered by the obsessive quality of the superb Alla sarabanda, which never gives up its insistence on the note F. The shadowy scherzo and the explosively rhythmical finale complete what is an exceptionally powerful symphonic statement.

I sincerely hope that this CD will help to trigger a reappraisal by audiences and concert planners of this individual and, at present, unjustly neglected composer. Congratulations to all involved in an important project, and grateful thanks to the Rawsthorne Trust for helping to make it possible (if you want to find out more about their work, do have a look at

Gwyn Parry-Jones

see also review by Em Marshall

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