Malcolm WILLIAMSON (1931-2003) Overture 'Santiago de Espada' (1957) [6:33]
Symphony No. 1 'Elevamini' (1957) [29:49]
Sinfonia Concertantefor three trumpets, piano and
strings (1958/61) [18:46]
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1957 rev. 1971) [17:28]
Malcolm Williamson (piano) (sonata)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
rec. Kingsway Hall, London September 1971 (Sonata); Liverpool, June 1976 LYRITA
ago I attended a concert at the Festival Hall by the Bach
Choir and LPO under Sir David Willcocks, performing music
by the last four Masters of the Queen’s Music. Elgar was
represented by his Coronation Ode, Bax by the ubiquitous Tintagel,
and Sir Arthur Bliss by the rarely heard Beatitudes.
The opening item was Williamson’s Santiago de Espada Overture,
included on this disc. After this the larger-than-life composer
made his way to the front of the hall, clad in what appeared
to be a multi-coloured kaftan, to acknowledge the applause.
Williamson died in 2003 the general critical consensus seemed
to be that he was a composer who had never quite realised
his initial promise. Blessed - or cursed? - with tremendous
facility, he was able to turn his hand to a wide range of
skills, encompassing opera, chamber music, sacred works and
orchestral music. He enjoyed initial successes in the 1950s
and 1960s, and the championship of figures such as Sir Adrian
Boult, who performed the Santiago de Espada Overture
and Symphony No. 1 at a private concert in St Pancras Town
Hall in 1957. However, subsequent critical reception became
less positive; works were criticised for being ‘shallow’ or ‘insincere’.
Williamson’s very versatility was now seen as suspect. What
was perceived in some quarters as a lack of discipline in
his approach to composition led to situations where he was
unable to finish commissioned pieces within agreed timescales,
most famously on the occasion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee
in 1977. In later years ill health and domestic crises substantially
reduced Williamson’s output. But there was much in his life
that was positive. His interest in the therapeutic power
of music that arose from his participatory operas of the
1960s led to work with disabled children. He maintained a
consistent belief in music as a force for good in the world,
and in its ability to change listeners for the better.
his death there has been something of a reawakening of interest
in Williamson’s music, with Chandos recently embarking on
a series of recordings with Rumon Gamba and the Iceland Symphony
Orchestra. The majority of the works on this Lyrita CD initially
appeared on a 2CD gatefold release from EMI in 1977, also
featuring Menuhin’s recording of the Violin Concerto and
the ballet The Display conducted by John Hopkins.
This - with the exception of the Violin Concerto - is their
first CD reissue, and it makes an excellent companion to
an earlier Lyrita release (SRCD 280) featuring the Organ
Concerto and Third Piano Concerto under Boult and Leonard
opening Santiago de Espada Overture is a cracking
example of its genre, combining Waltonian ebullience and
nobility within Williamson’s personal musical language. Its
absence from regular concert programmes is to be regretted.
Symphony No. 1 (Elevamini) also dating from 1957 is
much more serious fare. It was written following the death
of the composer’s grandmother and opens with a sequence of
grinding chords which recur at key moments throughout the
work and which represent the opening of the gates of New
Jerusalem to admit new souls. This is followed by a long
threnody for strings alone, a passage that would not be out
of place in a symphony by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, before the
second section of the movement is introduced by hushed chords
on horns and more restless flute figurations. This leads
to a slow funeral march, with sinister throbbing timpani
underpinning the texture, building to a recurrence of the
grinding chords. The movement concludes serenely.
central Allegretto movement that follows provides
welcome rhythmic and textural contrast. Paul Conway in his
booklet notes finds a “Coplandesque” quality to the music
here. There is imaginative use of percussion, too, and a
general lightness of approach that is refreshing.
are back to more serious stuff with the Finale. This contrasts
slow moving passages, including an insistent trumpet call,
with faster, dancing figures and rhythmic timpani. As the
movement progresses the distinction between these lessens,
and builds the tension until the final reappearance of the
grinding chords that opened the symphony. The work ends with
a quiet, long-held string chord.
with his First Symphony, the inspiration behind Williamson’s Sinfonia
Concertante is again to be found in the composer’s deeply-held
religious beliefs. All three movements of the work have revealing
titles. The opening movement (Gloria in excelsis Deo)
is fast moving and rhythmic and makes several references
to the traditional Gloria chant. This is followed by a contrasting
slow movement (Salve Regina) and an ebullient Finale
(Gloria Patri) which features a prominent trumpet
part. The threads of the music are pulled together in a short
all these works Sir Charles Groves and the RLPO demonstrate
total commitment to the music. They are as equally at home
in the effervescence of the Santiago de Espada Overture
as in the seriousness of the Elevamini Symphony. Martin
Jones is the capable soloist in the Sinfonia Concertante.
Second Piano Sonata, which concludes this disc, is taken
from an Argo LP featuring various British composers playing
their own works. It is a tougher nut to crack than the orchestral
works, displaying a more uncompromising side to Williamson’s
work and perhaps reflecting his studies with Elizabeth Lutyens
and Schoenberg disciple Erwin Stein in the 1950s. The composer
himself proves a capable interpreter.
are informative booklet notes by Paul Conway, and those interested
in finding out more about Williamson’s life and works should
also take a look at Paul Conway’s fascinating article on
the composer, which also includes more detailed commentaries
of several of the works on this CD.
CD proved something of a revelation; a composer who has something
serious to say, particularly in the First Symphony, and whose
latter-day reputation as a purveyor of shallow trifles is,
on the evidence of the works heard here, undeserved.
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