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Daniel JONES (1912-1993)
Symphony No. 4 (1954) [31:35]*
Symphony No. 7 (1972) [21:54]*
Symphony No. 8 (1972) [24:32]**
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves*
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson**
rec. 18-19 April 1972, Studio No. 1 Abbey Road, London (4, 7) originally released on EMI ASD 2855; 10-11 February 1979, BBC Llandaff originally released on BBC Regium REGL 359 (8). ADD
The original recordings with support from the Welsh Arts Council. CD transfer and re-mastering supported by the Arts Council of Wales.
LYRITA SRCD.329 [78.05]

Sound Sample
Excerpt Symphony 4(iii)


 


Reviewing music by composers seen as being a bit down the pecking order is always tricky. One must be fair but take account of why such composers never made ‘top drawer’.

Daniel Jones was prolific, an expert with the orchestra and with timbres of instruments. There were few who could match him but maybe he wrote too much instead of consolidating particular works to a level simply better than the state in which he left them.

It makes sense to see Jones as a more or less tonal but abstract composer - a bit like Rawsthorne, Piston and even some Arnold, except that Arnold was more subjective, Piston had an American agenda and Rawsthorne (the dentist) had precision of thought which Jones too often lacked.

And yet … this Lyrita reissue has so much sheer sonic quality that it’s a must-have for anyone who loves glorious orchestral sound and wants to explore the richness of post-war music in the UK and Ireland.

Jones was a genius of orchestration and the Fourth Symphony of 1954 (in memory of Dylan Thomas) is a truly wonderful three-movement symphony of just over half an hour. In the hands of Sir Charles Groves with the RPO in 1972 this is Jones at his finest.

The maestoso opening movement starts with a striving struggle and a menacing undertow but this gives way to exploring whatever problem was posed at the outset. The closing resolution in a movement lasting just over eleven minutes is glorious but restrained, as if overhearing an unhappy friend solving an unspoken problem.

The second movement Allegro capriccioso shows Jones at his orchestral best with some quite startling woodwind against brass yet the ‘subject’ remains abstract and the movement seems to lose its way musically? Given that we never knew the problem it perhaps makes sense to see this scherzo in terms of a celebration but with uncertainties still.

This, I think, is confirmed in the final movement Adagio – moderato – adagio which begins with determination and power, as if showing determination. It soon becomes episodic and moody with shades of Walton’s contrasts and puzzles. It is gorgeously controlled both in composition and specifically in this performance from 1972. Then the gear-changes to a triumphant declaration and the work ends with a mysterious pizzicato; maybe the unknown issue was not solved.

I agree with the notes by Lyn Davies regarding the Dylan Thomas association and my review is late because I went back to Thomas to test the theory. It works because Welsh layers of symbolism are too often ignored by the English. I support my point by suggesting that when you buy this CD you also buy the BBC Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ with Richard Burton and Sian Phillips - then you will understand.

I disagree with the Lyn Davies notes regarding the middle symphonies being concerned with experimentation. Frankly, I hear too much imitation and wonder about how serious a contender Jones is. As I have already stated: maybe Daniel Jones wrote too much but not to full completion.

The four-movement Seventh Symphony of 1972 (again Groves and the RPO) begins with a movement called Risoluto. The abstract and playful meat of the movement turns into too much bang and crash for my taste. Sound effects are no substitute for a true resolution.

The second movement Espressivo has some gorgeous woodwind, string textures and shades of Hindemith: lovely but not original. The same applies to the following Scherzando, which uses hefty brass contrasted with xylophone and vibes but to little effect. There are shades of Hindemith again and Walton in a substantial way but why use extra instruments so ineffectually?

Jones get his act together in the linked 4th and 5th movements Solennel con brio with a sense of massive tension akin to Henze, Sessions and Carter from a slightly earlier period. Certainly the music is worth listening to but I hear nothing original.

In the Eight Symphony (also 1972) with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra in 1979 under Bryden Thomson, Jones uses five short movements to come to no particular conclusion. That said, there are lovely bits along the 24 minute journey.

Bryden ‘Jack’ Thomson (1928–1991) (not ‘Thompson’ as the notes have it) was a Scottish conductor who was always underrated. His music will be appreciated in due course because he was simply brilliant. Dying so young robbed us of a genius of the orchestra.

Thomson opens the Eighth with a sense of hidden fire under a mysterious smoulder. The movement is brief and moves on to another, similarly brief, with some excellent percussion. The actual ‘cloth’ is Stravinsky and British contemporaries, notably Walton.

The Capriccioso third movement of a mere three minutes uses a piano in a very weak way. The careful listener will note cribs from Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ and ‘Petrushka’, so the piano seems to me to have been an indulgence in a symphony when compared with its role in Shostakovich 1 where it makes complete sense.

The Doloroso fourth movement of just over six minutes is gorgeously nocturnal in the strings and woodwind. There are some strong statements a bit like those in Henze’s Fourth and the lovely woodwind writing should be compared with Henze’s First. Sonically lovely but as to musical integrity the movement prefigures the final Con brio ma sempre nobilmente; pleasant enough but gets nowhere.

This Lyrita release is recommended for the Fourth Symphony in a perfect performance with legendary ADD sound originally from EMI engineers. However to understand what Daniel Jones was about we must have all the evidence, not least because his music sounds gorgeous.

I and others might want more "importance" from music but when ears are kissed by these sounds we can suspend intellect and just enjoy.

Anyone, especially young people wanting to understand what an orchestra can do really should hear Jones.

Stephen Hall

 

See also review by Rob Barnett

 


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