Malcolm Williamson Concerto for Organ
and Orchestra; Piano Concerto 3; Sonata
Birthday Tribute to Williamson
These recordings are
not exactly new-minted but they are
still in good heart. They are not Lyrita
originals but derive from EMI and Decca
projects. All but the sonata were issued
in the wake of Williamson’s shock appointment
as Master of the Queen’s Music and before
he began to blot his copybook with delayed
delivery of commissions and outrageous
behaviour. In the 1960s he had built
a reputation for phenomenally productive
work-rates and a reliability in producing
commissions that matched that of Benjamin
Britten. With that track record he must
have seemed safe pair of hands. Things
were however to change. In any event
EMI issued a two-LP gatefold set which
included the first three works along
with the ballet The Display.
Easily the most accessible is Santiago
de Espada which is written within
the triangulation points of Walton and
Arnold. It’s an engaging work with an
inner brightness that typifies Williamson.
This version lacks the super-vivid colouring
of the latest Chandos recording made
with Gamba and the Iceland Symphony
Orchestra. Turning to the First of the
eight symphonies we meet music with
a darker and much more severe mien.
It s a 30 minute work in three movements.
The outer movements reminded me of Malcolm
Arnold’s Sixth Symphony with its muttering,
obsessive figuration and Oedipus
Rex dissonance. The central allegretto
provides some light relief, rhythmic
emphasis and balletic airiness in the
manner both of Copland and of Malcolm
Arnold at his most insouciant. The tender
voice of the strings, a sometimes subjugated
line in the finale in fact triumph in
closure of the work as a whole. The
three movement Sinfonia Concertante
– dedicated to the composer’s wife
- pounds grimly away, echoing Le
Sacre and Shostakovich in the outer
movements. The closing pages of the
finale are just as tenderly memorable
as those of the Elevamini symphony.
The piano solo cannot help but emphasise
that this is a piano concerto in all
but name. It stands in the same line
as the second and third piano concertos.
Perhaps one day we will be able to hear
the first and fourth concertos too.
It is invaluable to have the composer’s
own reading of the Second Sonata to
compare with Antony
Gray’s ABC recording of the complete
solo piano music. It shows the composer
at his most dour presumably caught at
a moment n history when the unforgivingly
dissonant idiom appealed to him. Years
later he was to inveigh against modernists
who cut loose from the appreciation
This is a typically
well documented issue and Lyrita did
well to sign up Paul Conway to provide
the very full liner-notes.
caught in accessibility, brilliance
and dour gestural defiance.