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George LLOYD (1913-1998)
Symphony No. 4 in B (1945-6) [60:02]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat (1947-8) [57:34]
Symphony No. 8 (1961 orch. 1965) [45:28]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Edward Downes
rec. 1982-84, London? ADD
LYRITA SRCD.2258 [3 CDs: 60:02 + 57:34 + 45:28]

I went to the world premiere of two Lloyd works and even went so far as to write him fan letters; his replies were characteristically warm. What I admired so much, and what others unimpeded by aesthetic strait-jackets liked so much, were his rich melodic sense and his control of texture, his dramatic march rhythms, those moments of almost Ravelian clarity, and the affecting groundswelling of his slow movements. It was one of those that I heard when the Eighth Symphony first came out on LP and I remember being rooted to the spot during its long length. I bought it the next day.
Lyrita has issued this three-for-the-price-of-two set at a propitious time and it makes strong claims on collectors new and old, even those who may have collected the composer-conducted recordings on Albany. For one thing Downes has the architectural sagacity to pace the symphonies with absolute assurance; for another he has been accorded some typically spot-on Lyrita recordings with a forward, bright sound that reveals plenty of detail, rather more so in fact than the Albanys.
The symphonies are presented logically enough in chronological order. The Fourth, his hour-long work of 1945-46, is heard best in this ardent, passionate and dynamic reading by Downes. It’s tighter than the rival Albany by five minutes and the major differences arise in the outer movements. The gradual screwing up of tension is terrifically exciting in this Lyrita and its subsequent relaxation via the skittish winds is vividly conveyed. Resist, if you can – but don’t worry, plenty can resist – the ardour and beauty of the great string tune that emerges at 15:00 into the first movement. The rapt stillness of the slow movement, one of Lloyd’s finest, embraces both the high lying strings and also the almost Rachmaninovian sumptuousness of the scoring  - unashamed beauty. This in its turn contrasts with the capricious pointing of the scherzo whose waltz themes and jauntily, even lissomly depicted. Thrilling is the word for the finale. I don’t care how you cut your musical mustard this is avid and resplendent stuff – and just listen to that wide-open trumpet solo.
The Fifth followed in the wake of the companion symphony and was finished in 1948. There is no brass or percussion in the first movement and no violins or violas in the second. Lloyd’s Ravelian instincts are immediately apparent in the opening movement though the Tristanesque chordal sunset at the end adds its own yearning gloss on the earlier material. Little here prepares one for the sombre, immutable and defiant balefulness of the Corale or for the immediate turning away to the almost unbearable lightness that is the Rondo. This genial and affirmative movement is imbued with its own ration of puckish elements and it comprehensively outwits expectations in prefacing the mighty Lamento. This is one ceaseless search, beautifully balanced, during which, amongst many other things, a remarkable string cantilena is abruptly thwarted. The finale’s start sounds like Prokofiev, ballet style, and the vitality of the percussive writing adds to the air of volubility and excitement.
The Eighth Symphony was completed in 1961 but not orchestrated until 1965. When Lloyd recorded this with the Philharmonia he was slightly slower in the first movement, slightly faster in the second, and pretty much the same as Downes in the finale. In effect the differences are as good as insignificant when it comes to matters of mere timing.  There’s little strain about the opening – the tranquillo withdrawal is offset against perky match themes and a sense of light music with capital L and capital M. Ideas unfold with profuse generosity and Lloyd’s trademark effulgent string tunes emerge like forces of nature. Better is to come in the central movement when from 9:00 onwards time stops still as Lloyd unleashes a melody ravishing in its beauty, total in its eloquence. It’s one of his most special moments in one of his most special symphonic movements. After which in the finale dynamism rules, from the freshness and zest of the trumpets to the colour injected by the percussion.
This completes a Lyrita symphonic triptych. Lewis Foreman’s notes are from the top drawer, even to the quotation citing Lloyd’s reaction to Britten: unfavourable if succinct. Clear, detailed but warm recording quality further intensifies the quality of this set.
Jonathan Woolf
see also reviews by Ewan McCormick and Rob Barnett


Paul Conway's article on the symphonies of George Lloyd
Lyrita catalogue   


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