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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Elizabethan Dances (6) (1956-57) [17:34]
The Innumerable Dance - An English Overture (1933) [10:37]
Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings (1943-44) [18:51]
Aphrodite in Aulis - An Eclogue for small orchestra after George Moore (1932) [05:09]
The Magic Island (1952) [10:53]
Festival March (1951) [08:05]
Eleanor Hudson (harp)
Jonathan Small (oboe)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 19-22 January 2006. DDD.
world premiere recordings (The Innumerable Dance; Aphrodite in Aulis)
NAXOS 8.570144 [71:09]

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The four previous Alwyn volumes from Naxos have done well and here the standard has not slipped.

Not content with generosity and higher bargain price Naxos offer us two more pieces of Alwyn not previously recorded. These make this disc an essential purchase.

The tangily-titled overture The Innumerable Dance derives its name from fragrantly verdant verse in Blake’s ‘Milton’. You need to remember that between 1933 and 1938 he wrote a massive work for soli, chorus and orchestra on Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell; something we need to hear. The music of the overture has some kinship with Delius and Moeran; you must remember that this is very early Alwyn. Its fly-away delicacy is also redolent of Holst. It is most transparently orchestrated and its triumphant celebration of Spring places it with two more complex works: Bridge’s Enter Spring and John Foulds’ April-England.

Aphrodite in Aulis is referred to as an Eclogue inspired by the George Moore novel of the same name. Moore is now desperately unfashionable and his writing is pretty indigestible. In Alwyn’s dreamily Delian music summer breathes easily; indeed the whole piece communicates as a single sweetly arched sigh.

The Oboe Concerto was premiered by Evelyn Barbirolli on 12 April 1949 in London. It’s a two movement work of meditative and dreamily contented Delian inclination. Its kinship is with the much later Arnold Oboe Concerto written for Leon Goossens.

Alwyn put aside these moods as the years passed and so we come to a piece that music-lovers who discovered Alwyn in the LP age will already know. The Magic Island Prelude appeared on an early Lyrita (SRCS63 still available in a new coupling as SRCD229) with the Third Symphony. Here the manner we know from the symphonies is apparent but cross-cut with ‘exotic’ Hispanic voices from Ravel. If Alwyn’s vision of the magical island is more grandiose and less enchantingly delicate than I would have expected this piece remains atmospheric.

The dance theme continues with the Elizabethan Dances which start with courtly echoes from the Court of the First Elizabeth to which we return for the allegro scherzando which is splashed with the sort of playfulness to be found in Bridge’s Roger de Coverley. This contrasts with rapturous and even exotic dances (trs. 2, 4, 6) with the psychological reach of a Prokofiev waltz or the tension-charged dances from Barber’s Souvenirs. These dances were preceded in 1946 by a Suite of Scottish Dances.

The disc ends with the Festival March premiered by Sargent conducting the LPO on 21 May 1951. This is an inspired and dignified but not very personal piece of jobbery assuming the loose-fitting panoply of Elgar and Walton in much the same way as Howard Ferguson did for his 1953 Overture for an Occasion.

Alwyn’s short orchestral works can be heard on both Chandos (conducted by Hickox) and Lyrita (Alwyn). These are full price items and the couplings differ from the present one so there is little point in comparison. All I need say is that the recording is natural without being distanced and that the performances evince commitment and a sympathy for the composer’s varying styles. Clearly if you have already launched out on the Naxos route for the Alwyn symphonies you will need to have this. In any event Alwynites will want this for the unique experience of hearing more than sixteen minutes of previously unrecorded orchestral Alwyn.

Rob Barnett


The William Alwyn Website

Other Naxos Recordings

Alwyn Symphonies 1&3

Alwyn Symphonies 2&5

Alwyn Symphony 4

Alwyn conducts Alwyn on Lyrita

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