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Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Cello Concerto Op. 31 (1955) [32:22]
Symphony No. 3 Laudes Musicae Op. 90 () [27:10]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Neil Mackie (ten)
Scottish National Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 23-24 Jan 1989. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10307 X [59:44]


This is a reissue of a full price Chandos disc (CHAN8741) long in that company’s lists. While the record catalogue for Leighton has burgeoned in recent years - not least the wonderful Delphian 3CD set of the piano music (see other review) - this is the only all-Leighton orchestral disc. Chandos have one other Leigthon orchestral piece in their coffers: Veris Gratia for cello, oboe and strings - long harnessed to Wallfisch's recording of the Finzi Cello Concerto on CHAN8471.

Leighton, a Scottish-born composer, had the misfortune to be borne into the Cheltenham generation of composers. They were slighted by the fashionable serial tsunami that swept through to a long-held ascendancy between 1946 and 1980. It was only then that the walls began to crack and fall. Leighton was a tonal composer with leanings towards Bartókian dissonance; although these came later in his career.

In the Cello Concerto the rhapsodic flux is decidedly eastern European specifically Hungarian. The music keeps recalling Rozsa's Cello Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante. There are cross-currents from Walton (listen to the central scherzo - brilliantly recorded here). The finale is ushered in by the unaccompanied soloist in reflective and melancholy-tinged mood. Leighton ends this his seventh concertante work with complete integrity. After a confident progression towards silence the door gently closes.

The Third Symphony is from 1984 and is for tenor and orchestra. The chosen poems have as their subject the art of music. The predominant mood is contemplative or supplicatory. This contrasts with the central movement. There the music dances with nervy animalistic activity evoking the Great God Pan piping on a reed at the riverside. The symphonic weight and momentum of the finale is undeniable. It creates a very successful and compact synthesis of song-cycle and symphony. The drama of the last movement strongly recalls Samuel Barber's orchestral essays. Once again the work ends with an audacious progression to silence rather than crowd-pleasing melodramatics.

The poems set are reproduced in full in the booklet. They are from Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici - For there is a musicke; Elizabeth Barrett Browning's The Great God Pan; and Shelley's Music when soft voices die and verse by the composer. The notes are in the reliable but never dull hands of Lewis Foreman.

Blessedly apt timing that Chandos release this fine and perceptively performed pairing within a month of Angela Brownridge's revelatory performances of the Leighton piano music. It's just a pity that Veris Gratia could not have been shoe-horned on as well; just under an hour minutes is short commons these days. Strongly commended.

Rob Barnett

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