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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Symphony No. 1 (1949) [38:29]
Symphony No. 3 (1956) [30:21]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 2-4 Aug 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557648 [68:50]

 

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The bargain price Alwyn-Naxos series continues to impress. The Lyrita discs are still available if you know where to look (Harold Moores) and there is Hickoxís Chandos set, available at reduced price and full of Chandosís accustomed sonic glory. This entrant, led by David Lloyd-Jones, couples the first and third symphonies. If youíve heard Barbirolliís BBC Maida Vale studio broadcast of No. 1, made in 1952, you will know that the conductor who first performed it takes the symphony at a quicker clip than Lloyd-Jones, though not always by much. Itís really only the finale where we see a decided divergence with JB slashing through it in 9.16 to Lloyd-Jonesís 10.38. That Dutton-Barbirolli Society CD is coupled with the Second Symphony and is strongly recommended to interested parties Ė it was Alwyn who arranged for the recordings to be made and a good job too as the BBC, as too often, failed to keep it.

The First is a liberating work, full of colour and vigour and tremendous vitality. From its tense and powerful adagio opening it evokes a simmering Scandinavian half-light and sports an allegro section in the first movement of warm lyric impress. The second movement, a pulsating Allegro, gives us some unlikely sounding DvořŠkian wind piping, VW string cantilever and Holstian (Planets) rhythmic stamp.† The warm and unfolding Adagio is judged just right Ė horns open and close Ė and the finale immediately bursts out into extrovert colour and builds itself up to an unshakeable and unstoppable climax. Iíve not heard the composerís own performance of this though at Naxosís tempting price this newcomer should not be spurned.

The Third is another work that reminds us how much Alwyn was taken by Holst. Itís cast in three movements and opens with determined, stentorian brass writing and driving percussion. Thereís little immediately appealing about this drama and its agitation and terse tension is a mark of Alwynsís superb compression of mood. Listen to the basses as they drive the second movement Ė or to the agitation that runs like a seam throughout, those marshalling trumpet calls adding dynamism and alarm. The finale opens with a Holstian march (Mars) of implacable drive before the seeming resolution of calming string and horn solos from 8í onwards. The end comes as an almost half-hearted roar, a bellow that never quite convinces.

The sound is, as Iíve found with the entire series thus far, really first rate and captures an immense amount of detail. The notes are up there as well and the performances are detailed, thorough and strong.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett

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