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Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Symphony No. 1 (1950): (Allegro tempestuoso [7.08]; Allegro [7.55]; Allegro non troppo [3.35]; Poco maestoso – Allegro risoluto [6.01])
Symphony No. 2 A Pastoral Symphony (1959): (Allegro piacevole [6.30]; Poco lento e liberamente [5.24]; Country Dance: Allegro giocoso [3.09]; Andante [4.44])
Symphony No. 3 (1964): (Allegro [8.05]; Alla sarabanda: Andantino [8.24]; Scherzo: Allegro molto [4.29]; Allegro risoluto [9.45])
Charlotte Ellett (soprano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
Recorded in the Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK, 6-8 January 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557480 [75.10]

Composed late on in his life, at the ages of 45, 54 and 59 respectively, Rawthorne’s symphonies are written in a mature style, long after he had found his "voice". They are fairly introspective works, a little astringent and full of rhythmic drive, hinting of Walton, yet also containing sections of great lyrical beauty. The First Symphony opens with a spirited, restless, energetic movement, aptly named Allegro tempestuoso, which immediately impresses – both in terms of the fluency and authority of composition and the excellent performance. David Lloyd-Jones is here a sympathetic and commanding advocate of these works, which he clearly understands and conveys with passion. The second movement is more sombre, with gorgeous sheer sounds in the strings. It is rather Vaughan Williams-like in its bleakness and I personally found it deeply moving. After a brief Allegro non troppo, the work ends on a more mercurial, yet exuberant and expansive note. The second, "A Pastoral Symphony", is a non-programmatic portrayal of life in the country, encapsulating the feel of the countryside rather than describing it pictorially. A flowing first movement indicates a much lighter and more transparent piece than his First Symphony, with more gossamer textures and tones, more restrained and less brash than its predecessor. An introspective, ruminating Poco lento e liberamente precedes a jig-like "Country Dance", both whimsical and rousing. The final Andante sets the words of the Elizabethan poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in a charming description of country life (surely Britain’s longest-lived poet, who, according to the programme notes lived from 1516 to 1647!). This is sublimely beautiful music, and extremely well sung by Charlotte Ellett. Yet the transition to solo voice at the end of the symphony is not quite as successful, natural or apposite as at the end of Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral Symphony or Mahler’s Fourth, for example. The Third Symphony is a satisfying marriage of the restlessness and terseness of the First and the slightly softer and more subtle tones of the Second. After a rather harsh, austere and angular first movement Allegro comes a mysterious, ethereal and inscrutable, but very fine, Andantino. The third movement is a capricious and flighty but quiet Scherzo and after a bold and brash opening to the final Allegro Risoluto, the symphony ends in a peaceful and hushed calm repose.

I found it fairly difficult to listen to the whole disc through at one sitting, as these are demanding and emotionally draining works. The symphonies would be better issued on three separate discs with other Rawsthorne works alongside. However, a huge number of brilliantly crafted British symphonies were written at around the same time, most of which have unjustly been consigned to the scrap heap with the relentless advance of atonality. It is therefore wonderful to see Naxos resurrecting them (especially since the Lyrita recording of these symphonies has been discontinued), and particularly given such high standards of performance from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and masterly conducting from David Lloyd-Jones.

Em Marshall

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