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William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Elizabethan Dances (6) (1956-57) [17:34]
The Innumerable Dance - An English Overture (1933) [10:37]
Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings (1943-44) [18:51]
Aphrodite in Aulis - An Eclogue for small orchestra after George Moore (1932) [05:09]
The Magic Island (1952) [10:53]
Festival March (1951) [08:05]
Eleanor Hudson (harp)
Jonathan Small (oboe)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 19-22 January 2006. DDD.
world premiere recordings (The Innumerable Dance; Aphrodite in Aulis)
NAXOS 8.570144 [71:09]


More goodies from the Alwyn-Naxos series. This one includes two world premiere recordings, always an enticing prospect for enthusiasts and completists. And the performances are as assured as before, which ensures a guarantee of corporate confidence in the repertoire.

The Elizabethan Dances are charming and evocative pieces, rather different in texture and intent from the more rustic evocations of, say, Rubbraís Farnaby Dances. The vigorous tabor intimations of the first dance fuse with the salute to the later Elizabeth in the second in the form of a gentle waltz. The Pavane is warm and delightful and the second Elizabethan Age is embraced with a frisky rumba rhythm, which shows its Janus face by rendering up a hornpipe as well.

The Innumerable Dance is a tone poem with its complement of Bax and Holst moments. Itís at its most appealing however in the more verdant and openhearted sections where Straussian effulgence reigns. The more cock-eyed folkloric sections have a distinctly Graingeresque cast and are full of fun and enjoyment.

The Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Strings was written during the War and was premiered by Evelyn Barbirolli. Here Jonathan Small plays with no little eloquence and timbral variety in its cause. The pastoral is not entirely unclouded, and its modal moments are calming and stoic. The first part, Andante e rubato, at one point even seems to pay homage Ė explicit or unconscious itís hard to tell which - to Deliusís The Walk to the Paradise Garden. The second part is necessarily more active and incisive with its folksy fugato and the slow central section. The quiet and reflective passage preceding the final flourish of optimism is highly affecting.

Aphrodite in Aulis is, with The Innumerable Dance, previously unrecorded. Itís a small five-minute eclogue inspired by a George Moore novel. Itís not desperately distinctive. Much the same can be said of the 1951 Festival March, which has its share of off-the-peg Waltonisms about it. A work cut from a different cloth is the following yearís The Magic Island. Inspired by The Tempest this is a rightly admired and successful work. The sense of tension and zestful release is ever audible and even Alwynís clearly quite deliberate Wagnerian evocations take their rightful place in this fulsome and engaging score. Itís still more engaging in the composerís own recording with the LPO on Lyrita. There the strings are more suave and tactile, rhythms bite more deeply and Alwyn "places" the Caliban incidents with greater immediacy and dynamism. If you want personality and a fine tension-menace quotient youíll find it there. By comparison Lloyd-Jones sounds rather undercooked.

Still letís not leave moaning. Two premiere recordings at bargain cost and generally excellent performances are not to be spurned lightly.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

British Composers on Naxos page


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