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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
I and others might
want more "importance" from
music but when ears are kissed by these
sounds we can suspend intellect and
young people wanting to understand what
an orchestra can do really should hear
review by Rob Barnett