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Daniel JONES (1912-1993)
Symphony No. 6a (1964) [29:14]
Symphony No. 9b (1974) [19:31]
The Country Beyond the Starsc (1958) [30:48].
cWelsh National Opera Chorus; acRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves; bBBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson
rec. aBishopsgate Institute, London, 15-16 January 1969 (originally issued on Pye Virtuoso TPLS13023), bBBC Llandaff, 10-11 February 1979 (from BBC REGL359); cAfan Lido, Port Talbot, Glamorgan, 22-23 May 1971 (from HMV ASD2739). ADD

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It could be George Smiley who peers myopically out at us through the green pastures of Lyrita’s booklet cover, but like John Le Carré’s more famous fictional character, those who encounter Daniel Jones would do well not to underestimate him.

Daniel Jones was an intuitive composer, resisting any kind of trend or formula, and applying techniques and systems of composition as it suited him. This is not to say that his work is in any way sprawling or undisciplined, but he was a composer who remained true to his own instincts in times when others screamed off into the mists of European avant-garde – probably one of the reasons for his enduring but inexplicable obscurity.

Opening with strong, Messiaen-like unisons, the 6th Symphony is a rich source of drama and expression. Filled with rhythmic explorations and harmonic development, the work is charged with effortlessly adept orchestration, sounding remarkably un-British in its toughness. I admire the deceptive, symmetrical structure of this piece with its three paired movements, and I particularly enjoyed the second movement, in which a tersely telling Sostenuto is followed some juicily thematic rollicking in the second Con brio section. Jones was involved in operatic writing at the time he composed the 6th Symphony, and the sharp twists and turns in content suggest dramatic narrative, although no specific programme was apparently intended. The wealth of detail demands and rewards concentrated listening, with remarkable moments fleeting past as if they were afterthoughts.

Moving on to the 9th Symphony I felt I had gone home – the sonorous sound of the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra having become as familiar to me as tea and biscuits in the 1970s. I still have Bryden Thomson’s autograph on a programme somewhere, charmingly donated at the then oh-so-modern County Hall in Cwmbran. Like the 6th Symphony, sonata structures hold together a classical, four-movement piece which is heavily laden with musical statements which sometimes seem to fall over each other with tumbling, quicksilver energy, while at the same time having an inevitability and strength of purpose which is undeniable. The second Lento movement is particularly strong, with prayer like utterances standing against ff cries of anguish. Pizzicato strings lighten the mood in the brief Allegro scherzando, and then we’re back in full flow with the final Solenne – Con Brio which drives on with perhaps an overabundance of Nielsenesque snaps.

Wales’ strong choral tradition forms the backbone of The Country Beyond the Stars, which sets verses by the Breconshire poet Henry Vaughan (1622-1695). Reading beyond the linguistic idiom of the day, Vaughan’s poetry (given complete in the booklet notes) strikes me as quite modern sounding. Given that currently less universal subjects such as religious faith are strong themes, have a look at the first verse of ‘The Bird’, a movement which Jones gives fascinating Langgaard-like flute filigrees:
Hither though com’st: the busie wind all
Blew through the lodging, where thy own
warm wing
Thy pillow was. Many a sullen storm
(For which course man seems much the
fitter born,)
Rain’d on thy bed
And harmless head.

Take away the capital letters and you’re almost left with a pastoral e. e. cummings. Daniel Jones’ settings are warmly passionate, and leave no doubt as to his sympathy with the poet’s individuality and single-minded purposefulness when it comes to mystical faith and manner of expression. ‘The Morning Watch’ has all of the uplifting character which made Elgar a household name, and ‘The Evening Watch’ is made into a contemplative companion movement. The final ‘Chearfulness’ is given a lively fugal setting which concludes with an irrepressible ‘Alleluia’.

With such a compilation, there is of course a little technical unevenness with the recording. The 6th Symphony shows its vintage the most, and all of the performances show how certain standards and practices have changed since the 1970s. Intonation blemishes, the occasional ‘lost phrase’ or wide vibrato in some of the choral singing all are signs of an age in which tastes and values were different to those demanded in today’s digital age. This said, the performances are deeply committed and highly effective. My real point is that these recordings have by now almost achieved ‘historical’ status, and judging by the quality of the music here at least one box set of Jones’ symphonies should be currently in the shops. A quick trawl of one of the leading online sales outlets for classical CDs shows this to be the only Daniel Jones title available – a genuine but undeserved ‘Amazonwhack’. Daniel Jones is a composer whose stature is easily comparable with someone like (as an almost random international for-instance) Vagn Holmboe, and a nicely produced modern set of recordings would fill quite a deep, inexplicably unrecognised void in the British music catalogue.

Dominy Clements

see also review by Colin Clarke

The Lyrita Recorded Edition


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