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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Symphony No. 4 (1959) [32:13]
Sinfonietta for Strings (1970) [22:51]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 2-4 Aug 2004, 4 Jan 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557649 [55:04]

Alwyn admirers are well served by the latest cycle of the symphonies – collectors will remember the composer’s own recordings, newly revivified by Lyrita. Then there is the Chandos box, a thoroughly recommendable overview. Now comes a Naxos budget price survey led by the studio-busy Lloyd-Jones.

The Fourth Symphony is a powerful symphonic statement that deserves multiple recordings. It’s cast in three movements of almost equal length and develops an increasingly eloquent strength. The opening movement begins with some linear clarity, soon inviting piping winds and brassy flourish in the Allegro section, before returning cyclically to the tempo primo and some more concentrated reflective material. The central panel of the symphony has fresh air winds and jaunty strings, jaunty, yes, but with percussion and bass etch to add a certain creative dichotomy to the sound world. There’s a really stentorian middle section with roles for solo violin and oboe and running pizzicati – and as with the first movement we return to the opening mood. After a rather morose start to the finale Alwyn smuggles in some Elgarian violin figures – I believe he played under the composer when he was an orchestral musician. The low brass writing is extremely fine here, and there is a deal of Holstian rhythmic gestures before a beautiful clarinet theme over a string cushion leads to a boldly brassy end.

The Sinfonietta is something of a neo-classical foundling by the side of the Symphony but very necessary to hear. The string writing sounds like a fusion of Britten and Bartók and Alwyn is not afraid to unleash sappy driving figures and a bold cello line. There’s a rather beautiful adagio, which quotes from Berg’s Lulu and a finale that veers between dramatically propulsive and coolly meditative and sounds very "Vienna 1910".

Lloyd-Jones has shown on disc before that he favours a direct approach as indeed he does here. He’s a clear-sighted guide and is aided by fine orchestral playing and a particularly good recording spectrum. Naturally aficionados will need to seek out the Lyrita, if they can. Alwyn was a more lean and direct conductor of his own music than Richard Hickox who is consistently more spacious but Chandos’s more opulent sound perspectives bolsters that approach effortlessly. There’s really very little between the Naxos and the Chandos performances in terms of perception and newcomers to the Alwyn canon can purchase with confidence.

Jonathan Woolf

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see also review by Rob Barnett February BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

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