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Alun HODDINOTT (b.1929)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 29a (1962) [26:55]
Symphony No. 3, Op. 61b (1968) [21:28]
Symphony No. 5, Op. 81c (1972) [11:03]
abLondon Symphony Orchestra/aNorman Del Mar, bDavid Atherton; cRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis
rec. aBishopsgate Institute, London 24-25 September 1967 (originally issued on Pye Virtuoso TPLS13013); bcKingsway Hall, London, bMarch 1972 (Decca SXL6570), cMarch 1973 (SXL6606). ADD

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Comparative review

‘My father knew Lloyd George’ as the saying goes. Well, at least I can say ‘my father knew Alun Hoddinott’, having commissioned a chamber work from him in the 1960s – evidenced by a muddy photocopy I have somewhere in my shockingly disorganised archive. Newport Art College Concert Society might not have been a whirling pit of avant-garde innovation, but Alun Hoddinott’s symphonies were all certainly commissioned by leading British orchestras, indicating the high regard in which his work was held – and still is, by those who know it.

Having just listened to some of Daniel Jones’ (Lyrita SRCD326) and Malcolm Arnold’s (Lyrita SRCD200) symphonic work I find it fascinating to compare and contrast these composers’ individual approach to the problem of creating new statements in a form which has been around for centuries. Each clearly values the symphonic form as a vehicle for the most detailed, developed and weightiest of musical statements, while at the same time always having the audience in mind. We are challenged, but if we are open to the language we are always entertained. Arnold is usually more easily accessible, layering his anger under humour and a deft lightness of touch – poking you with a feather duster mounted on a sharpened shooting-stick. Jones throws everything at you, holding back only on the kitchen sink – nothing so banal to be included in work of integrity and sometimes quite intoxicating strength and beauty. Hoddinott belongs to this tradition while at the same time seeming to defy its boundaries. His music is tough and disciplined, but eschews the ‘big theme’ while embracing the grand gestures of arch forms and sweepingly impressive orchestration.

The Second Symphony, expectedly, has a more youthful feel than the other works on this disc. The opening of the first Adagio movement has all of the forceful nature which can be found in the other works – just try switching back to it after hearing the close of the Fifth Symphony. The music has however, in general, a softer, more romantic feel to it than the later works. The defiant gestures are there of course, but with a kind of restraint – less blisteringly confident somehow. The second Allegro molto can’t help sounding a little like Shostakovich now and then, with its dashing winds and accents of tuned percussion. Stravinsky gets a little look in at the opening of the third Molto adagio movement, and there are some moments of Hindemith-like thematic gamesmanship in the final movement. This is not to say that this symphony is in any way a stylistic mish-mash, just that Hoddinott’s true voice is still tinted with shards of the past, aware and respectful of his near-contemporaries, while at the same time elbowing them aside with a powerful individuality.

Symphony No. 3 begins darkly, bass lines being shadowed with piano resonances added to the orchestral palette, whose percussion-rich sound is immediately more adventurous than that of the second Symphony. Whereas the Second Symphony was a conventional four-movement piece, this Third is in two movements, each divided into slow-fast, fast-slow tempi. Sonorous dissonances and resonant cluster-like chords inhabit the opening Adagio, and one can feel Hoddinott’s real voice is coming through. The following Presto is equally bass-lead, with menacing chromatic lines never far away, while winds and percussion drive forward in staccato waves or waving ripples. The first movement ends unresolved, and the arch structure is emphasised by the impression of a retrograde movement from this central point. Angular thematic discourse brings us to a point of unison, after which the mood of the opening returns – elusive, but recognisable, and at times beautifully expressive.

Hoddinott admits to the influence of ‘alpine horns, cattle bells and Tuscan mists’ in Symphony No. 5, whose genesis occurred during a summer holiday in Switzerland and Italy. Like the Third Symphony, it has two movements. The first Allegro sustains an ‘interrupted passacaglia’ through eleven minutes, the thematic threads being broken by more agitated, rhythmic textures which contrast with the flow of the passacaglia. The second movement has some thrilling gestures and nuances, with some gorgeous string moments and strong chorales in winds and brass.

Hoddinott’s music will not be everybody’s cup of tea. These are not the kind of symphonies from which you can come away from humming the tunes as you go. If you let it, the music will however insinuate into your consciousness, broadening your horizons on the way, and leaving you perhaps just a little sadder and wiser than before. The recordings on this CD are good, without being entirely faultless. Symphony No. 2 sounds a little desiccated and has one minor tape fault which I didn’t find particularly disturbing, but the other symphonies have a satisfying sound, and all are well performed. Anyone interested in finding out if there is life beyond Tippett will find much to discover and enjoy here.

Dominy Clements

see also review by Colin Clarke



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