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The Lyrita Catalogue

ArchivMusik (USA sales only)

Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971)
Symphony No. 1 (1950) [22:56]; Symphony No. 2 (A Pastoral Symphony) (1959) [19:47]; Symphony No.3 (1964) [32:03]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir John Pritchard (No.1); Tracey Chadwell (soprano), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite (No.2); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (No.3)
rec. Kingsway Hall 25 March 1975 (No. 1) ADD; Watford Town Hall, 25-26 August 1993 (No. 2) DDD; Kingsway Hall, April 1967 (No. 3) ADD
Originally released in this form in 1995, Re-released 2006
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Lyrita is back in action and is in the process of re-releasing their entire output of CDs. Among the first to reappear is this significant collection of all three of Alan Rawsthorne’s symphonies. The disc is one of only two complete single CD assemblies of the symphonies. Its importance is a documentary of three very different examples of Rawsthorne performance and as a fine example of the high quality of performance and recording achieved by Lyrita dating back to the vinyl era. The Third derives from a Decca-Argo LP.

The three Rawsthorne symphonies chart a progressive growth of harmonic and orchestral resource used in the service of personal expression. The First Symphony was written in the composer’s mid-forties and incorporated many of the lessons he had learnt in writing for films. The first movement immediate evidences the turbulence that underlies the entire work with a moving development of the second theme and a profound coda. The slow movement continues the unsettled feeling eventually leading to a sense of hopelessness. The scherzo is nominally cheerful, with beautiful string writing, but the tension around the note G, which has pervaded the entire work, is not completely resolved in the fourth movement and the coda leaves the listener feeling no less uncertain than at the work’s beginning.

It is probably unnecessary to say that one should not confuse Rawstorne’s Pastoral Symphony with that of Vaughan Williams, even if both do share a soprano in the last movement. The Rawsthorne begins a little like his First Symphony, but the foundation note this time is E rather than G, which makes for less turbulence. There is also a greater freedom in the use of harmony and the orchestration is masterly, especially in its use of the horns. The composer’s thinking has greatly evolved in the nine years since the previous symphony. Mournful horns begin the second movement, the core of the symphony. There is a march-like middle section where it would be easy for the conductor to lose track of the disparate structural elements; Nicholas Braithwaite has this movement totally under control. This is some of the best conducting to be heard from him on CD and the LPO plays in complete accord with him. Increasing harmonic resource is again demonstrated in the third movement, a country dance rather than a scherzo, although a country dance à la Rawsthorne. The Andante last movement begins with a reminiscence of the melancholy of the first movement. Trumpets take over to introduce the vocal soloist who sings in praise of summer. The movement ends as mysteriously as it began.

In the Third Symphony thematic and motivic fragments, so important in the first two symphonies become the corner-stone of the structure, although a tone-row is used for development and the work still has a foundation, again around E. This recording was made only three years after the premiere in 1964 and contains all the excitement attendant on a new, major work. Norman Del Mar delivers an extremely forceful performance, although it lacks some of the grace of the other two performances and the recording sounds much more constrained than for the LPO in the same venue in the recording of Symphony No. 1. Many listeners have found that much of the opening Allegro sounds very different from previous Rawsthorne, but this is merely a product of the time it takes to adjust to the wide range of things happening in this movement. The second movement is one of the most impressive in all three symphonies, especially the development of the tragic second theme. This section‘s painful emotions find repose at the end, but not without an element of the macabre, a feeling that also informs the scherzo, although not in the sense one might expect, as the scherzo is very quiet and a marvelous example of thematic compression. The concluding Allegro risoluto is a match in quality for the slow movement. It is a sort of rondo in which the subject material is first developed and then starts to disintegrate, ending with a very hollow sound.

It is good to see that Lyrita has made the Pritchard recording sound brighter and more full-bodied than was possible on the LP. The recording of the Symphony No. 2 is of much more recent vintage and was always very lifelike. It doesn’t really need to be improved upon. The recording of No. 3 is not as life-like or impressive as that secured some ten years later for Symphony No. 1, although the playing of the BBC Symphony is quite good.

Admirers of Rawsthorne will want to have this disc for both its musical and documentary quality. For the more general listener there will probably be something of a conflict between this disc and the recently released disc by David Lloyd-Jones and the Bournemouth Symphony. The latter has the advantage of the low Naxos price and up-to date recording. The Lyrita disc has the late Tracey Chadwell in the solo part of Symphony No. 2 and in fine form and this will be a deciding factor for anyone who is familiar with her musicianship.

William Kreindler

see also review by Colin Clarke


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