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Alun HODDINOTT (b. 1929)
Dives and Lazarus Op.39 (1965)a [14:38]
Viola Concertino Op.14 (1958)b [21:56]
Nocturnes and Cadenzas Op.62 (1969)c [20:59]
Sinfonia Fidei Op.95 (1977)d [20:24]
Felicity Palmer (soprano)a; Jill Gomez (soprano)d; Thomas Allen (baritone)a; Stuart Burrows (tenor)d; Csaba Erdélyi (viola)b; Moray Welsh (cello)c; Welsh National Opera Chorusa; New Philharmonia Orchestraab; Philharmonia Chorusd; Philharmonia Orchestracd; David Athertonab; Sir Charles Grovescd
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1975 (Dives and Lazarus, Viola Concertino) and Brent Town Hall, Wembley, Middlesex, November 1980 (Nocturnes and Cadenzas, Sinfonia Fidei)

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There was a time, during the LP era, when Hoddinott’s music was reasonably well represented in commercial recordings, particularly on Decca and Argo. Two pieces here were originally released by Argo (Dives and Lazarus and the Viola Concertino), whereas the other two derive from Unicorn (Sinfonia Fidei and Nocturnes and Cadenzas). The Third and Fifth Symphonies, recorded by Decca, were re-issued on Lyrita SRCD331 reviewed here some time ago. So far so good but recordings of several fine pieces, also recorded by Decca or Argo, have never been re-issued in CD format so far, neither has a very fine RCA LP (RL 25082) from as far back as 1977. It is thus quite nice to be able to listen again to some of these recordings, in the hope that more of them might eventually be re-issued too, maybe through the Explore label.

From quite early on in his prolific composing life, Hoddinott found his own voice, and was able to compose a substantial output of highly personal works, the music of which is nevertheless immediately recognisable. However, as Rob Barnett mentioned in a recent review of Hoddinott’s Investiture Dances Op.66, the composer has never been afraid to compose shorter, highly entertaining pieces in a more accessible, amiable idiom. Some of these works were recorded a long time ago but to date not re-issued.

The Viola Concertino Op.14 is an early, but quite characteristic work, in which Rawsthorne’s influence may still briefly surface, but which manages to be already quite individual in tone and design. The composer already displays his life-long liking for palindromic structures, as well as his instrumental and orchestral flair. The title of the work may be a bit misleading, for neither the musical substance nor the actual size really justify such a diminutive title. In fact, this is a substantial work scored for small orchestra, so that the soloist is never drowned by the orchestra and the instrument may thus sing in its most eloquent register. Later, however, Hoddinott’s orchestral mastery allowed him to compose works such as Nocturnes and Cadenzas Op.62 and Noctis Equi Op.132 (both for cello and orchestra) in which larger orchestral forces never obscure the soloist’s discourse.

Hoddinott’s slow movements, either in his symphonies or in his concertos, are very often cast as nocturnes. He also composed an orchestral work titled Night Music Op.48. By the way, the first movement of the Viola Concertino is a nocturne too. No wonder that his first cello concerto was titled Nocturnes and Cadenzas Op.62, thus perfectly summing-up the work’s global structure consisting of three nocturnes interspersed by two cadenzas functioning as bridge passages. The work as a whole is structured as a large-scale arch-form, one of the composer’s favourite designs. As already hinted earlier in this review, the scoring is masterly, carefully balanced so that the orchestra never competes with the soloist. The scoring also emphasises a characteristic of Hoddinott’s mature orchestral writing in the subtle and telling use of percussion. This is one of Hoddinott’s most impressive masterpieces, and I welcome its return to the current catalogue.

The choral works are quite contrasted, although obviously from the same pen. Dives and Lazarus Op.39 was commissioned by the Farnham Festival for the combined forces of Aldershot High School and Farnborough Grammar School, with two adults soloists (soprano and baritone). The music is somewhat simpler and more straightforward, although the composer never writes down to suit amateur musicians. The work is strongly structured and tightly knit through the use of recurring germ cells, while the vocal parts are eminently grateful to the voices. This recorded performance by professional musicians generously confirms the work’s many intrinsic musical qualities.

Sinfonia Fidei Op.95 is a large-scale piece for soloists, chorus and large orchestra, at once a work clearly devised for professionals and one of Hoddinott’s most direct public statements. I heard this performance when it was released in LP format, and had then some doubts about it. I realise now that my doubts were mostly due to Unicorn’s digital recording made in the perspective of the oncoming CD format. It did not always come off satisfyingly in LP pressings. I thus welcomed this opportunity to hear it again, and I gladly admit that my doubts have now been washed away. Sinfonia Fidei is a mighty, impressive piece of music.

All these performances were – and still are – magnificent, and the recorded sound does not show its age. As mentioned earlier, there are still many fine Hoddinott recordings lingering in Decca’s and Argo’s archives that badly deserve to be re-issued. I hope that they will soon surface again. Anyway, full marks for these excellent re-issues that put some of Hoddinott’s superb, sincere and honest music back into the catalogue.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Colin Clarke

Lyrita Recorded Edition catalogue


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