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George LLOYD (1913-1998)
CD 1
Symphony No. 4 in B (1945-6) [60:02]
CD 2
Symphony No. 5 in B flat (1947-8) [57:34]
CD 3
Symphony No. 8 (1961 orch. 1965) [45:28]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Edward Downes
rec. 1982-84, London? ADD
3 CDs for the price of 2
LYRITA SRCD.2258 [3 CDs: 60:02 + 57:34 + 45:28]

Paul Conway’s article on the Lloyd Symphonies

Each of these three CDs derive directly from vinyl albums issued just before the launch of the CD. It was not an auspicious time for what were super-premium price LPs. That said, interest in Lloyd was intense – at least in some quarters. Lloyd’s Piano Concerto No. 1 The Scapegoat broadcast by John Ogdon in the mid-1960s had left little or no impression generally. It was a summer evening broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1977 that turned things around. On 4 July 1977 after much persuasion by Ogdon we heard a studio recording of Lloyd’s Eighth Symphony. It instantly grabbed the attention with its grandly uproarious melodic saturation. In 1981 the Proms resounded to what may well be Lloyd’s finest work at least alongside the Seventh Symphony. The captivating Sixth Symphony – at less than 30 minutes, his shortest - was performed to an enthusiastic audience. It was done in rip-roaringly romantic style by the then BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Downes – the same forces who had brought the Eighth out into the admiring sunlight in 1977. In fact Manchester was to be the scene of many Lloyd premieres although during that time the BBCNSO metamorphosed into the BBC Philharmonic. Symphonies 2, 5, 7, 9 and 10 all had performances there; not to mention the whole of his Festival of Britain opera John Socman. The grand exception which links us back to the present set was the first public performance of the Fourth Symphony which was given by Edward Downes and the Philharmonia one baking day during the Cheltenham Festival: 13 July 1981.

This set has competition but in the shape of recordings made by Albany with the composer conducting. These are all at premium by comparison with this 3 for 2 permanent pricing. The counterparts are the Fourth with the American orchestra who were Lloyd’s champions for so many years. This was issued first on AR002 and latter in hybrid SACD on TROY 498. At 65:07 it’s a more languorous approach that the composer brings to this symphony which was borne of trouble and nightmare on the Arctic convoys of the 1940s. The sound is splendid but I enjoyed the extra vituperation brought by Downes to the first movement. The sound is vintage sunset analogue – truly magnificent with sweet strings, a growling bass and brass magnificently rendered. Interestingly this symphony which one always expects to be more tortured than it actually is sounded even lighter in the hands of the BBCPO and Rumon Gamba when I heard this in BBC Studio 7 in Manchester in 2006. Gamba certainly brought out the balletic and fey side of the music emphasising the Berlioz and Tchaikovsky strands rather than the grand tragedy. Downes, especially in the first movement, mines a tense vituperation that recalls the mood of Walton’s con malizia movement in the First Symphony. Overall though the Fourth Symphony seems to have been written as a spell against tragedy rather than a mirror of tortured experience. The finale – and much else though – is truly gripping and exciting in the euphoric way we experience Tchaikovsky 4. The fact that the majestic theme of the finale sounds like a fragment of the old song ‘In the Quarter Master’s Stores’ dilutes none of its effect. One finds more grit however in the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies and it’s a pity that Downes and the Philharmonia never got to the Seventh although they did tackle it very effectively in the BBC studio with the BBC Phil. The only recording of this very fine symphony is on TROY057 where the conductor is the composer and the orchestra the BBCPO. The Fifth is more sombre but with some really grand moments. The sound is just as resplendent as that for the Fourth. This too has competition from Albany and the composer with the BBCPO on TROY 022 at 56:28; just a shade faster than Downes. The Fifth has more heroic-tragedy about it than the Fourth or for that matter the Eighth which is agile, grand and euphoric. Lloyd never lacked for a melody and he knew how to manipulate it with the mastery of a Tchaikovsky. Once again, with the Eighth, the Albany recording, the latest recorded amongst their symphonies, which was also made with the Philharmonia, plays for about the same time as the Lyrita: 45:52. In interpretative and sound terms despite the digital divide there’s little to choose between them.

For the record the original three Lyrita Recorded Edition LPs were:-

SRCS-113 Lloyd Symphony No. 8

SRCS-124 Lloyd Symphony No. 5

SRCS-129 Lloyd Symphony No. 4 in B

This Lyrita set is irresistible if you want to explore Lloyd’s symphonies for the first time. I know at least one person who has remained unimpressed by Lloyd. Certainly his best purely orchestral work is to be found in the symphonies 4-8 where this romantic master vies with Bax and Alwyn but remains completely distinctive. The top-line merits of this set are accentuated by Lewis Foreman’s excellent notes which nicely chart the Lloyd renaissance, by the glories of the analogue engineering, by Downes’ grip on the Fourth Symphony and by the thoughtfully attractive pricing decision.

Rob Barnett




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