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Malcolm WILLIAMSON (1931-2003)
Overture ‘Santiago de Espada’ (1967) [6:33]
Elevamini – Symphony No. 1 (1957) [19:49]
Sinfonia Concertante for three trumpets, piano and strings (1958-61) * [18:46]
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1957 rev.1971) ** [17:28]
Martin Jones (piano) *
Malcolm Williamson (piano) **
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
rec. Liverpool, June 1976 (orchestral); Kingsway Hall, London, September 1971. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.281 [72.43]

SRCD.280 Malcolm Williamson Concerto for Organ and Orchestra; Piano Concerto 3; Sonata
Seventieth 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 of audiences.

This is a typically well documented issue and Lyrita did well to sign up Paul Conway to provide the very full liner-notes.

Williamson generously caught in accessibility, brilliance and dour gestural defiance.

Rob Barnett

Lyrita Catalogue


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